Senate EPW committee introduces six-year transportation reauthorization bill
May 13, 2014
As expected, the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) this week rolled out its version for new federal transportation authorization, entitled the MAP-21 Reauthorization Act (S. 2322).
This six-year bill, which will be marked up by EPW on Thursday, would fund and improve the country’s highway programs at current funding plus inflation, according to EPW officials. The bill was introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Senator David Vitter (R-LA), Ranking Member of the Committee, Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, and Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee
“The legislation builds on the success of the comprehensive reforms and performance-based approach to transportation investment in Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21),” EPW officials said. “It provides long-term funding, giving state and local governments the certainty and stability they need to improve and develop our nation’s transportation infrastructure. These investments will create new jobs, provide a boost to our nation’s economy, and keep us competitive in the global marketplace.”
The timing of the new bill could prove to be key, with MAP-21 set to expire at the end of the fiscal year on September 30 and the Highway Trust Fund expected to be depleted by early August.
The MAP-21 Reauthorization Act calls for long-term funding certainty for state and local governments to support multi-year transportation project investments, as well as increased funding for existing core transportation formula programs to provide states and local governments with a strong federal partner.
On the freight front, which continues to ostensibly gain importance in relevance on the federal transportation front in recent years, there are some notable freight-related provisions within the bill.
One of them, according to the bill’s language, is the establishment of a formula-based freight program, which is based on the program included in the Senate-passed MAP-21 and would provide funds to all states to improve goods movement on key corridors, reduce costs, and improve performance for businesses, as well as:
-expand flexibility for rural and urban areas to designate key freight corridors that match regional goods movement on roads beyond the Primary Freight Highway Network;
-improve efforts to identify projects with a high return on investment through state freight plans and advisory committees established under MAP-21;
-provide new funds to projects of national or regional significance through a competitive grant program;
-provide new provisions to improve the transparency of how and where transportation projects are selected and funded to ensure that stakeholders and the public have faith in the integrity of highway programs and the use of federal tax dollars;
-develop a national freight strategic plan that would provide and assessment of the condition and performance of national freight network and identify highway bottlenecks on the national freight network that create significant freight congestion
-improve upon the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program and provide state and local governments new options for stretching transportation dollars and increasing efficiency and utilization, among other provisions
“It looks like this bill is building on the streamlining provisions from MAP-21, which is something I would have expected them to do, especially since Senator Vitter and Senator Barrasso are very focused on the regulatory side and speeding up project delivery,” said Janet Kavinoky, executive director of transportation and infrastructure for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “The National Freight Program in the bill is something Senator Boxer had talked about wanting to build on, with MAP-21 being about trying to lay the foundation to figure out which routes were critical and was all about the designation of the National Highway Freight Network, and now they want to put some resources behind those efforts.”
Kavinoky added that the EPW Committee’s timing for getting the bill out is very good, explaining there is sufficient time to get the authorization side of it done, with the financial challenges in funding the bill still needing to be addressed.
Officials at the Coalition of America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC) endorsed the bill.
CAGTC said that this bill renews the requirement for the U.S. Department of Transportation to develop a National Strategic Freight Plan with new tools and data assessments is beneficial, explaining that since its inception CAGTC has advocated for a freight-specific grant program to award funding through the use of merit-based criteria that identifies and prioritizes projects with a demonstrable contribution to freight efficiency. It explained that freight projects are typically large-scale, frequently multimodal and cross jurisdictional borders, making them difficult to fund through traditional distribution methods such as formula programs
“We look forward to the proposals of the other Congressional committees of jurisdiction that may complement the policy put forth by the EPW Committee in this bill. We commend their commitment to bolstering freight infrastructure through increased investment and strong policy,” said Leslie Blakey, CAGTC President and Executive Director, in a statement.
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