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Congress approves $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill

Biden to sign reauthorization of truck safety programs through FY2026

Infrastructure bill streamlines project permitting. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

A historic, $1.2 trillion infrastructure package that folds in a reauthorization of the highway bill for the next five years — including a load of new provisions that affect trucking — is finally headed to President Joe Biden’s desk for signing.

After months of political gamesmanship between the progressive wing of the Democratic party in The House of Representatives and conservative Democrats in the Senate – both trying to use leverage to affect passage of the related budget reconciliation bill – the Democrat-controlled House chamber passed the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act (IIJA) late Friday by a vote of 228-206.

The IIJA, which was approved by the Senate in August, now awaits signing into law by President Joe Biden.

The House also postponed a rule that would have provided a path for a floor vote on the $1.75 trillion reconciliation bill, known as President Biden’s “soft” infrastructure package, which funds social justice and climate goal initiatives. Democrats are hoping to approve that bill prior to the Thanksgiving holiday.

In addition to $273 billion over five years in recurring federal program funding allocated to roads and bridges, the landmark IIJA — the biggest single infrastructure bill in decades — sets aside an additional $550 billion in new spending, including $110 billion for roads, bridges and major infrastructure projects.

“After countless hearings and meetings on Capitol Hill, ATA members will finally see the fruits of their labor — a 38% increase in road and bridge funding, and an infusion of highly-trained, younger talent into our workforce,” said American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear in a statement immediately following passage of the legislation.

Under-21 truck driver provision secured

The bill more than doubles the funding aimed at transportation safety and establishes new regulations and programs affecting trucking, including a provision that make 18-21 year-olds eligible for interstate driving, a law the Biden administration has contended is needed to bolster the driver ranks.

Other provisions in the bill include:

  • Hours-of-service exemption for livestock haulers.
  • Automatic emergency braking performance requirements.
  • Underride/side underride protection.
  • Truck broker/truck dispatcher guidance.
  • An electronic logging device data review.
  • A Truck Leasing Task Force.
  • A Women of Trucking Advisory Board.
  • A Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee/Small-business truckers.
  • A truck-crash study.

The bill also directs the U.S. Department of Transportation to establish a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) pilot program to assess a national VMT to restore and maintain the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund.

Planes, trains, ports 

New spending in the bill — outside regular federal program funding — includes $17.4 billion for waterway and coastal infrastructure, inland waterway improvements, port infrastructure, and land ports of entry through the Army Corps of Engineers, DOT, the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

An additional $66 billion goes to freight and passenger rail, including dedicated funding for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. Airports will receive $25 billion that will increase funds to improve runways, gates and taxiways, and multimodal connections.

Long-term project money

The bill codifies a Trump-era executive order that set a two-year goal for completing the environmental review and permitting process for major projects. That faster timeline will allow states to better plan for both maintaining roads and conducting major infrastructure projects.

“The money [set aside in the legislation] is going to flow immediately and with more certainty, and will give states the ability to do a three-year project,” Spear at a press briefing in October. Spear pointed out that because it has been years since Congress passed a major infrastructure package, many projects have been limited to only a year in duration because long-term funding was never certain.

“That’s no way for any state DOT to plan big projects, so they’ve been stalled,” Spear said. “We’re going to see a lot of construction out there over the next three years. So get used to new road projects — they are long overdue.”

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.