AASHTO Journal, 16 May 2014
On Thursday, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works unanimously approved a six-year measure to reauthorize the highway portion of the current surface transportation bill MAP-21 upon its expiration Sept. 30.
The MAP-21 Reauthorization Act, or S. 2322, provides $265 billion for highway programs over six years and continues the core program structure put in place in MAP-21 including the National Highway Performance Program, Surface Transportation Program, Highway Safety Improvement Program and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program. The bill also creates a new National Freight Program that distributes funding to state transportation departments via formula. Funding is continued at current levels through fiscal year 2020, adjusted for inflation.
Also included in the bill are several provisions aimed at improving project delivery, changing the financial threshold for projects with limited federal assistance that qualify for categorical exclusions and expanding the multimodal categorical exclusion established in MAP-21. The bill also requires federal resource agencies to give “substantial weight” to the recommendations in programmatic mitigation plans when carrying out NEPA responsibilities.
The bill continues to fund the TIFIA credit program, which was originally set for $1 billion a year, but an amendment during Thursday’s markup bumped that down to $750 million in order to keep research funding in the Highway Trust Fund. While the amendment kept research funding in the Highway Trust Fund, it reduced research funding by $150 million from current levels.
A separate amendment by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and approved by the committee would permanently rescind Highway Trust Fund obligation authority if the HTF is projected to fall below $2 billion in the current year or $1 billion in the subsequent year. The Sessions amendment reduces the amount of obligation authority made available at the beginning of the year so that USDOT is not put in the position of having to delay reimbursements near the end of the year (See related AASHTO Journal story).
The bill also gives states the ability to use federal highway funding to capitalize State Infrastructure Banks, and allows the Transportation Secretary to make TIFIA loans to State Infrastructure Banks. Projects of National and Regional Significance becomes a discretionary grant program similar to the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant.
“Today’s passage sends a powerful signal to our colleagues and to our nation that we are serious about addressing the looming funding crisis in the Highway Trust Fund,” said Senate EPW Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in a statement. “I am proud of this strong, bipartisan bill that helps provide the certainty that all of our states and cities need to move forward with critical infrastructure and transportation projects. Thanks to all of our members for their work on this job-creating legislation.”
Ranking Member David Vitter also applauded the bill’s passage through committee.
“It’s important to improve our nation’s roads and bridges and help provide traffic relief, so we can carry out on daily routine, like picking up the kids from practice,” Vitter said. “Our nation’s infrastructure needs attention and updates. Today’s vote in the EPW Committee is a testament to the overwhelming bipartisan support of this urgently needed legislation.”
AASHTO Executive Director Bud Wright commended the EPW Committee and its leadership for its bipartisan approach to the need for a long-term, multi-year investment in transportation infrastructure.
“The nature of the projects and programs that state departments of transportation oversee require a long-term view in order to ensure the best investment of federal, state and local tax dollars,” said Wright. “While we begin the process of reviewing the specifics of the bill, we look forward to working with Sens. Boxer and Vitter and the rest of the Committee to address the looming Highway Trust Fund crisis. Current projections show the Trust Fund could reach levels that slow and halt reimbursements to state DOTs within a matter of weeks.
“We also look forward to working with the Committee and the entire Congress to preserve the successful MAP-21 framework that enables comprehensive, integrated transportation planning and programming across communities and rural areas in every state.”
The measure will now likely wait for other Senate committees will deal with other aspects of a transportation reauthorization. For example, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation must address the highway safety programs of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, while the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, & Urban Affairs has jurisdiction over Federal Transit Administration programs. The Senate Committee on Finance has responsibility over the HTF.
The 150-page bill approved by the Senate EPW Committee Thursday is available here.