On Wednesday, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO6), and other Republican Committee leaders, introduced the Surface Transportation Advanced through Reform, Technology, & Efficient Review (STARTER) Act 2.0. This is the latest and most detailed surface transportation reauthorization released by either party in either chamber this Congress. The legislation maintains Republican surface transportation priorities and provides lawmakers a negotiating position leading into the eventual release of Chairman DeFazio’s (D-OR4) surface transportation reauthorization bill.
This five-year authorization provides $400 billion in funding for the federal highway, transit, and motor carrier and highway safety programs. This represents a 32% increase from FAST Act funding levels and the legislation provides that any increase in Highway Trust Fund (HTF) contract authority above FAST Act funding levels go to the National Highway Performance Program (NHPP), the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program (STBGP), the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP), the National Highway Freight Program (NHFP), and the Rural Area Formula Grant Program. Beyond topline funding levels, STARTER Act 2.0 includes provisions that streamline project delivery, provides states flexibility in project selection, supports resilience, and provides Highway Trust Fund revenue solutions. Specifically, this legislation includes:
Project Delivery and State Flexibility
- Creates a government-wide goal of limiting the time required for environmental reviews and authorization for major infrastructure projects to two years from the publication of a notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS), to issuance of a record of decision(ROD) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
- Federal agencies are required to develop a single permitting timetable for environmental review and authorization decision.
- Sets page limits of 150 pages for an EIS, and 75 pages for an environmental assessment (EA).
- Project sponsors are allowed to assist agencies in conducting environmental reviews to reduce process timeline and resolve issues without taking control or authority away from the lead agency.
- States may use up to 15% of their NHPP funds for protective features to improve resiliency of a Federal-aid highway or bridge off the National Highway System.
- The legislation creates the Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-saving Transportation (PROTECT) grant program which provides funding for highway projects that will reduce the cost and risk related to natural disasters. This provision was also included in Senate EPW’s America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019 (ATIA).
- Increases the authorization in the federal cost share in highway funding for activities that are designed and demonstrate reduction in cost and risk associated with extreme weather events, flooding, or other natural disasters.
- Under the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Emergency Relief Program, funding for mitigation activities must support projects that are cost beneficial and will reduce actual risk.
Highway Trust Fund Solvency
- Creates at DOT a national pilot program with Department of Treasury coordination, a test vehicle miles travelled (VMT) reporting and revenue collection mechanism system.
- Establishes a national advisory board to coordinate broader testing and the study of a per-mile road usage charge.
- Sets October 1, 2026, for the DOT Secretary to establish a national implementation pilot program for government-owned vehicles.
This legislation also makes the Better Utilizing Investments to leverage Development (BUILD) Grant program permanent, increases the statutory cap of surface transportation private activity bonds from $15 billion to $45 billion, and directs the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the FTA to update their joint environmental and planning regulations.
In ASCE’s 2021 Infrastructure Report Card, our nation’s roads, bridges, and transit systems received a “D,” “C,” and “D-”. We applaud the efforts of House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO6) and his staff in developing a comprehensive bill that will help address the needs of our ever-changing surface transportation system. As Chairman DeFazio and his staff continue to develop reauthorization legislation, we urge lawmakers to act quickly to meet the September 30th deadline.