Senate EPW Introduces Bipartisan Surface Transportation Bill

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Over the weekend Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE), Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee Chairman Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Ranking Member Kevin Cramer (R-ND) introduced the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act (STRA) of 2021.

This legislation takes the first step in reauthorizing highway and bridge programs currently set to expire under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act on September 30, 2021. Rail, safety, transit, and fixing the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) are the jurisdiction of the Senate Commerce, Banking, and Finance Committees, and will be added to the STRA at a later date.

STRA is a five-year, $303.5 billion reauthorization of core federal highway and bridge programs and represents a 22-percent increase from current FAST Act funding levels. $273.2 billion, or 90-percent, of total highway funding from the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) is distributed to states by formula. Topline funding includes $148 billion for the National Highway Performance Program (NHPP), $64.8 billion for the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program (STBG), and $13.2 billion for the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program (CMAQ). Beyond these funding levels STRA includes provisions that accelerate project delivery, invest in resilience, address climate change, and improve road safety. Specifically, this legislation:

Accelerate Project Delivery

  • Codifies ‘One Federal Decision’. The Department of Transportation (DOT) is required to complete environmental reviews in two years. Documentation is limited to 200 pages unless a review has wide scope and is highly complex.
  • Eliminates existing requirements for states repaying Federal-aid reimbursements for preliminary engineering costs on a project that has not advanced to right-of-way acquisition or construction within 10 years.
  • Updates the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program to increase program use, streamline the application process, and increase transparency.

Invest in Resilience and Address Climate Change

  • Appoints 10 regional Centers of Excellence for Resilience and Adaptation and 1 national Center of Excellence for Resilience and Adaptation. These centers will support research that improves resilience on surface transportation infrastructure. Grants will be awarded at $ 5 million or above for each fiscal year through 2031.
  • Creates the Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-saving Transportation (PROTECT) grant program, which helps states improve the resiliency of transportation infrastructure. $7.2 billion is provided over a 5-year period.
  • Institutes a congestion relief program to provide competitive grants to states and local governments to advance solutions to congestion relief in highly congested areas. Minimum grant award size is $10 million, and the bill provides $250 million over five years.
  • DOT is required to revise the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief program to include a definition or resilience, encourage complete street design principles, and develop best practices for improving the use of resilience.
  • Establishes the Carbon Reduction Incentive Program to encourage reduced carbon emissions. Grants would be made available to state or local governments that demonstrate reduction in transportation emissions. The program will receive $6.4 billion over 5 years.
  • Creates the Healthy Streets program which provides funding to deploy cool and porous pavements and expand tree cover to mitigate urban heat islands, improve air quality, and reduce flood risks. $500 million is provided over five years.

Improve Road Safety

  • A new competitive grant program to address the backlog of bridges in poor condition nationwide. $3.2 billion is authorized for the program.
  • Establishes a wildlife crossing pilot program to provide grants for projects designed to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and improve habitat connectivity. $350 million is provided over five years.
  • Requires DOT to implement recommendations from a Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report entitled “Highway Safety: More Robust DOT Oversight of Guardrails and Other Roadside Hardware Could Further Enhance Safety” published in June 2016.
  • DOT is directed to update the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, and to continue to update the manual no less than every four years.
  • Established a grant program to provide state DOTs and local government assistant with installing projects designed to prevent pedestrian injuries. The program is authorized at $ 5 million from 2022 to 2026.

Address Future Needs

  • Authorizes a study to provide the best available estimate of the total amount of fuel taxes paid by users of non-highway recreational vehicles into the HTF. Reauthorizes and renames the Surface Transportation System Funding Alternatives Program in order to test the feasibility of a road usage fee and other user-based alternative revenue mechanisms to support HTF solvency.
  • Requires DOT and the Department of the Treasury to establish a pilot program to demonstrate a national motor vehicle per-mile user fee.
  • Develops a pilot program to study access to transportation access to improve future planning of the surface transportation network.

During Wednesday’s markup, EPW passed the legislation, 20-0. Senate Commerce and Banking Committees will now need to begin their portions of a surface transportation reauthorization.  ASCE joined our industry partners  before the markup in supporting this first important step in reauthorizing our federal surface programs.

In ASCE’s 2021 Infrastructure Report Card, our nation’s roads and bridges received a “D” and “C.” We applaud the efforts of Chairman Carper, Ranking Member Capito, and Senators Cardin and Cramer in developing comprehensive bill that will help address the needs of our ever-changing surface transportation system. We strongly urge the Senate Commerce and Banking Committees to act quickly to address the challenges facing rail networks, transportation safety, and transit systems before the Senate Finance Committee debates a pay-for solution and the full Senate can vote on a comprehensive package.

 

 

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