House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee rolls out five-year, $260 billion bill
February 01, 2012
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee yesterday unveiled a five-year, $260 billion transportation bill entitled The American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act.
This bill comes at a time when the current national surface transportation authorization, SAFETEA-LU, which is on its eighth extension at current funding levels since September 2009, expires at the end of March. In November, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved its own transportation bill, entitled Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), which vows to reauthorize U.S. transportation programs for two years at a cost of $109 billion and reform these programs to make them more efficient.
The bill’s authors said that the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act is a long overdue infrastructure bill that reforms transportation programs and promotes increased domestic energy production to create American jobs.
“The American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act is the largest transportation reform bill since the creation of the Interstate Highway System in 1956,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) in a statement. “This is a five-year bill that reforms our federal transportation programs, cuts the red tape and bureaucracy that delays projects across the country, gives states more flexibility to determine their most critical infrastructure needs, provides states with the long-term stability to undertake major improvements, and encourages private sector participation in helping to finance transportation projects.”
The bill’s chief objectives include:
-authorizing approximately $260 billion over five years to fund federal highway, transit and safety programs, consistent with current funding levels;
- providing long-term stability for states to undertake major infrastructure projects;
-containing no earmarks, compared to the previous transportation law which contained over 6,300 earmarks;
- consolidating or eliminating nearly 70 federal programs
-calling for the funds collected for the improvement of the nation’s harbors to be invested for that purpose;
-eliminating mandates that states spend highway funding on non-highway activities;
-allowing states to set their own transportation priorities; and
-encouraging states to partner with the private sector to finance and build projects, among others.
From a freight perspective, the bill is calling on the Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with interested public and private sector freight stakeholders, including representatives of ports, shippers, carriers, freight-related associations, state transportation departments, and local governments to develop a 5-year National Freight Policy.
This policy would specify goals, objectives, and milestones with respect to the expansion of freight transportation capacity and improving freight transportation infrastructure, as well as investing in freight transportation infrastructure to boost economic competitiveness, reduce congestion, increase productivity, improve and maintain existing transportation infrastructure so that it meets appropriate standards and improve its capacity to meet future demand. The policy also calls for increasing the usage and number of strategically-located multi-modal freight transportation facilities to reduce highway-related congestion and emissions.
The establishment of state freight advisory committees was also part of the bill, with these committees focused on advising states on freight-related priorities, issues, projects, and funding needs. And the bill is asking the Secretary of Transportation to encourage each state to develop a freight plan that provides a comprehensive plan for immediate and long-range freight-related planning and investments.
What is sure to be one of the most highly-debated parts of the bill has to do with trucking productivity.
According to the bill, state may allow commercial trucks to operate at a gross weight of up to 126,000 pounds—compared to the current 80,000 pound limit—and also allow longer commercial vehicles with triple-trailers up to 120 feet.
“Americans don’t want 97,000 pound trucks or huge multi-trailers up to 120 feet long on our nation’s highways,” said Association of American Railroads President and CEO Ed Hamberger in a statement. “Nor is it fair that even more of the public’s tax dollars will be used to pay for the road and bridge damage inflicted by massive trucks.” AAR officials also cited how academic studies show that raising truck weights to 97,000 pounds from 80,000 could actually result in 8 million additional truckloads on America’s highways.
And officials from the American Association of Port Authorities praised the bill for calling for the Harbor Maintenance Tax to be used for its original purpose, which is program consolidation and streamlining project delivery.
“The fact this bill acknowledges the need for a national freight policy is worth noting,” said Leslie Blakey, executive director for the Coalition of American Gateways and Trade Corridors. “Beyond that it does call for the DOT to develop a freight policy and encourages states to have stakeholder advisory groups, but there is no funding for any of this, but at least at the federal it is showing a need for benchmarking and a better analysis of the system, too.”
Blakey added that there is also no funding for construction projects through the federal process in this bill even though states are being asked to develop freight plans and invest in freight transportation infrastructure and instead have to use their own resources and rely on programs like TIFIA and state infrastructure banks.
In terms of how transportation bills are typically funded, this bill represents a very significant change in how transportation programs are structured, according to Mort Downey, former deputy Transportation Secretary under President Clinton and CAGTC Chairman.
“Virtually all the money in this bill will go out by formula particularly on the highway side,” said Downey. “There are no discretionary programs, no earmarks, whereas it is a payday for the states as they will get the money and decide what to do with it. There is also the unanswered question of how the entire bill will be paid for as it needs about $50 billion in new revenue over the five-year timeframe and we have not seen what that is yet. Some of it will be in the form of oil and gas drilling but that does not come close to filling the gap.”
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