By Gregory Scott, P.E.
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate both approved a five-year, $305 billion highway, transit and railway authorization bill. The overwhelming, bipartisan vote was 359 - 65 in the House and 83 - 16 in the Senate. President Obama signed the bill into law later on Friday December 4th.
In the run-up to the vote, ASCE members urged adoption of the bill known as the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. The FAST Act provides nearly $233 billion for highways, $49 billion for transit and $10 billion federal passenger rail. By the end of the bill’s five-year duration, highway investment would rise by 15% and transit spending would grow by nearly 18%. The FAST Act is the longest surface transportation authorization bill since the enactment of a previous five-year bill in 2005.
The bill includes:
- Creation of a dedicated $1.25 billion freight program to help ensure federal investments are targeted at improving U.S. economic competitiveness;
- Providing $900 million per year for large-scale projects under a new, nationally-significant freight and highways program;
- Cutting the TIFIA program from $1 billion annually to around $300 million per year. TIFIA helps leverage billions of dollars in private sector capital for investment in our nation’s infrastructure;
- Innovation initiatives, such as establishing a national program to explore surface transportation funding alternatives to the fuels tax; and
- Investment in transit by creating a new research and deployment program, increasing funds for fixed guideways, and establishing a new bus facility program.
Further details on the bill’s content is availableat ASCE’s Infrastructure Blog: http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/asce-news/infrastructure-in-the-news-infrastructure-on-the-fast-track-to-improvement/
The bill was paid for through $70 billion in general fund money, which came from sources unrelated to transportation. The largest offset came from spending down a capital surplus account in the Federal Reserve. The bill does not “Fix The Trust Fund” as ASCE advocates, because it does not provide a sustainable source of revenues to support the HTF. The Highway Trust Fund is now slated to experience a $24 billion annual shortfall starting in fiscal year 2021 should Congress fail to provide a future funding fix to this looming crisis. ASCE’s President Mark W. Woodson, P.E., issued the following statement following the bill’s approval noting that despite its passage, Congress still has to address the long term solution for surface transportation funding.
"After nearly a decade of short-term bills and numerous extensions, ASCE congratulates Congress on delivering a five-year authorization bill that will start to address our nation's backlog of surface transportation needs. States will be able to plan, design, and build long-term projects because the bill increases funding and offers certainty that the federal government will continue to be a trusted investment partner. The FAST Act increases federal investment into our aging roads, bridges, and transit systems, creates a national freight program, improves innovation, and streamlines the environmental and permitting process. However, it does not provide a long-term fix to the Highway Trust Fund crisis. ASCE urges Congressional leaders to start seriously exploring ways to fix the Highway Trust Fund in the long term now, so that in five years that solution can be implemented."
Thank you to all our members’ efforts over the past several months in helping to secure program certainty and nominal funding for our nation’s federal surface transportation programs!