Senate EPW Committee approves MAP-21 by 18-0 vote

By Jeff Berman · November 10, 2011

On November 9, the United States Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) signed off on legislation spearheaded by committee chair Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) that would keep surface transportation spending at current levels by an 18-0 vote.

The bill, entitled Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), 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, according to EPW officials. They added that this bill is a “bipartisan effort that holds spending at current levels plus inflation, greatly increases leveraging of federal dollars, and modernizes and reforms the nation’s transportation systems to help create jobs and build the foundation for long-term prosperity.”

The EPW bill is comprised of various freight- and supply chain-related components, including:
-a National Freight Network Program that provides formula funds to states for projects to improve the movement of freight on highways, including freight intermodal connectors;
-a National Highway Performance Program that consolidates the Interstate Maintenance program, the National Highway System program and part of the Highway Bridge Program into a single program that focuses on the most critical 22,000 miles of roads in the country;
-a Transportation Mobility Program that replaces the current Surface Transportation Program but retains the same structure, goals, and flexibility to allow states and metropolitan areas to invest in projects fitting their needs and priorities, as well as provide a broad eligibility of surface transportation projects that can be constructed; and
-the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program which provides Federal credit assistance in the form of direct loans, loan guarantees, and standby lines of credit to finance surface transportation at favorable terms; and
-the Projects of National and Regional Significance Program, which authorizes a program to fund major projects of national and regional significance which meet rigorous criteria and eligibility requirements, and authorizes $1 billion for appropriation in Fiscal Year 2013.

Regarding the National Freight Network Program, the bill stated this is a core requirement, as the condition and capacity of the highway system has failed to keep up with the growth in freight movement and is hampering the ability of businesses to efficiently transport goods due to congestion.

It added that MAP-21 addresses the need to improve goods movement by consolidating existing programs into a new freight-focused program that provides funds to the states by formula for projects to improve regional and national freight movements on highways, including freight intermodal connectors.

“We are pleased that this bill passed unanimously with bipartisan support and are particularly pleased with the plan for a national freight program that was included,” said Leslie Blakey, Executive Director of Washington, D.C.-based Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC). “Having language for projects of national and regional significance, which was written into law in SAFETEA-LU, incorporates a number of elements from the Department of Transportation’s TIGER program. From a freight point of view, this bill has a lot of positive developments.”

Like previous surface transportation bills, the issue of how to adequately fund them is never far from the surface and it is no exception this time around. The American Association of State and Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) noted that in order for this bill to move forward, it is contingent on the Senate Financing Committee finding $12 billion in offsets to supplement projected Highway Trust Fund (HTF) revenue. The HTF is funded primarily on revenue from gasoline tax, which has not been raised since 1993.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, led by Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) is calling for funding for the highway, transit, and highway safety programs at levels consistent with the amount of revenue being deposited into the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), whose revenues are derived from the federal gasoline tax—which has not increased since 1993.

The House and T&I Committee made its case clear for this approach, explaining that in 2010 the HTF brought in $135 billion in revenue, while more than $50 billion in spending was authorized from the HTF. And in the last three years, Congress has transferred about $35 billion from the U.S. General Fund into the HTF in order to keep the HTF solvent, with the HTF expected to run out of funding by 2013.

Mica recently introduced a six-year, $285 billion surface transportation bill that would be funded at current levels. Current surface transportation authorization has been extended eight times by Congress since SAFETEA-LU expired in September 2009, and the most recent extension runs through March 31, 2012. Mica is eyeing that date as a de-facto deadline to have a new bill signed into law, explaining that the country cannot wait any longer. And rather than haggling over how to find the necessary funding, Mica said he is proposing to Boxer that they work in a partnership to find the needed money together and move forward from there.

CAGTC’s Blakey said that the Senate Finance Committee Max Baucus (D-MT) is committed to finding that money through budget offsets rather than raising the gas tax, which has been uniformly—and repeatedly—dismissed as an option by the White House and member of Congress.

Senate Majority Leader John Boehner recently proposed funding surface transportation by expanding domestic energy production, including oil drilling, and putting the proceeds toward highway infrastructure needs, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

Blakey said this approach could be difficult due to environmental regulation issues and also adds another layer of politics that are inherent in the transportation trade-off, too.

Like Blakey, Mort Downey, CAGTC Chairman and former deputy Transportation Secretary under President Clinton, said that from a goods-movement perspective the EPW bill is sound.

“The EPW has taken a strong bipartisan view that federal transportation investment should have a strong freight component,” said Downey.

Downey said the bill’s language regarding Projects of National and Regional Significance comes across as a hybrid of facets of SAFETEA-LU and the TIGER program. And the reason no funds were allocated for 2012, he said, is that appropriations are already going towards TIGER.

This is a very potential positive for very large significant freight projects, according to Downey, including existing projects like the Chicago area CREATE railroad infrastructure project, and the Alameda East project in Northern California.

“The bill is saying more needs to be done on that front,” said Downey. “It is not necessarily dedicated to freight, but goods movement projects can be significant contenders for this program.”


About the Author

Jeff Berman
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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