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U.S. Senators introduce $287 billion highway bill

Photo credit: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

A $287 billion proposal reauthorizing funding to maintain and repair the country’s roads and bridges includes a first-ever title addressing carbon emissions and supporting electric vehicle infrastructure.

The legislation, a five-year reauthorization of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act to be called America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019, was introduced on July 29 by the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee. The proposed funding for federal-aid highway programs is a 27 percent increase from the $226 billion authorized in the current legislation, which expires in October 2020.

“The [EPW proposal] is the most substantial highway infrastructure bill in history,” said the committee’s chairman, John Barrasso (R-Wyoming). “The bill cuts Washington red tape, so road construction can get done faster, better, cheaper and smarter. It will help create jobs and support our strong, growing and healthy economy. Infrastructure is critical to our country and we should responsibly pay for this legislation.”

Tom Carper (D-Delaware), the committee’s ranking member, said addressing air pollution in a highway bill will help move the country “toward a safer, more connected, efficient and climate-friendly transportation system” to keep up with the global economy.

“We’re just getting started, but I look forward to moving this bill out of committee this week and the work ahead of us to get it across the finish line.” The bill must be paired with a version from the U.S. House of Representatives that is not expected to be introduced until the fall of this year, at the earliest.

The Senate legislation increases funding for the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant program for freight projects to $5.5. billion, a 22 percent increase from the $4.5 billion authorized in the FAST Act. It increases the minimum amount of INFRA funds to go towards smaller projects from 10 to 15 percent, and sets aside $150 million per year for a pilot program that prioritizes projects offering a higher non-federal match. It would also create new transparency requirements for administering the grants.

The committee’s bill also proposes boosting funding for the National Highway Freight Program from $6.3 billion under the FAST Act to almost $8.5 billion. The array of projects eligible for funding under the program includes railway-highway grade separations, improvements to interchanges and ramps, truck-only lanes and truck parking facilities.

“We are very pleased with the increase in funding for the INFRA and national freight programs, as well as the committee’s proposal to increase the flexibility of those programs so funding is available for multimodal and intermodal project,” Elaine Nessle, executive director of the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors, told FreightWaves.

“The demand out there certainly speaks to the need for an increasing level of funding. Round after round, the U.S. Department of Transportation receives far more requests than what is available in the funds. This still won’t satisfy all the needs being requested but it gets us closer to what’s needed on an annual basis.”

To prepare for an increase in electric and alternative-fuel vehicles, the bill creates a $1 billion, five-year competitive grant program for states and localities to build hydrogen, natural gas and electric vehicle fueling infrastructure along highway corridors that lack the infrastructure. It also includes $3 billion over five years in new funding distributed to states to support projects that would lower highway-related carbon emissions. “States can receive greater project flexibility if they meet certain emissions planning requirements,” according to a bill summary. “In addition, states can compete for $500 million over five years in additional funding by making progress on lowering their per capita emissions.”

Other new emissions programs in the highway bill includes $200 million over five years to help states reduce traffic congestion, and $370 million over five years to reduce truck idling time at ports.

To improve road and bridge safety, the EPW bill offers new competitive grants – $6 billion over five years, including $3.3 billion from the Highway Trust Fund – to address a backlog of bridges in poor condition nationwide.

In a statement supporting the committee’s proposal, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) emphasized that $259 billion, or 90 percent, of the funding would be provided directly to states by formula, a method that “ensures flexibility to best meet each state’s unique highway investment needs,” said AASHTO Executive Director Jim Tymon.

“For state DOTs, it is absolutely crucial to get the next federal transportation bill done on time, without resorting to a series of short-term program extensions,” he added. “When federal funds are predictable and stable, state DOTs are able to fully focus attention on delivering critical projects that improve safety, quality of life and economic opportunities for everyone.”

The EPW committee plans to mark up the bill this week. The Senate Finance Committee, which has responsibility for outlining how to pay for the authorized funding levels, has not yet started working on that section of the bill, according to reports.

One Comment

  1. Donald Crawford

    Too bad funding is a game played everywhere.and sad that this bullcrap of elected idiots have done nothing but screw around all session on whinny cryee crap that needs to be put to aside and lead our country on the path of legit bills and paths for the betterment of the American people.and as far as all manufacturer a hurry to get out the door. Inferior steel/ aluminum and not class 8 nuts and bolts and properly saf

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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.