Senate signs off on MAP-21 legislation
March 14, 2012
With federal funding for surface transportation set to expire on March 31, the Senate took a meaningful step today in looking to the future, signing off on the Senate’s Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) legislation by a 74-22 margin.
This two-year, $109 billion bill would keep surface transportation spending at current levels.
With the Senate vote done, the focus now turns to the House side. The House’s five year, $260 billion American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012 has stalled out since being introduced in late January.
This was made clear by the fact that when the House Republican Conference met last week to review the status of the bill, there were still not enough votes for the bill’s transportation sections, with only the energy portion being signed off on, according to a report in Politico.
Meanwhile, House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) said in a statement that a five-year bill “is the best option for a job-creating bill to improve our infrastructure.”
While Mica has faith in his five-year plan, the lack of sufficient votes indicates the House feels differently at this point. What’s more, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) recently said it is among dozens of organizations that are against removing transit investments from the Highway Trust Fund.
Many transportation stakeholders are calling for the House to consider the Senate’s MAP-21 or pass companion legislation so that federal funding for transportation programs is not eliminated when the eighth continuing resolution of the previous bill, SAFETEA-LU, expires on March 31. SAFETEA-LU is primarily funded by the Highway Trust Fund, which stands at 18.4 cents for gasoline and 23.4 cents for diesel and has not been increased since 1993. The Highway Trust Fund as required multiple bailouts from the U.S. General Treasury Fund in recent years to remain solvent as it has been paying out more capital than it has been taking in.
“Our nation’s neglected transportation system has created bottlenecks and inefficiencies that are getting worse every day,” NRF Senior Vice President for Government Relations David French said in a statement. “As bad as things are, they will only get worse if Congress misses the deadline we face at the end of the month and leaves transportation funding in limbo. The House needs to follow the Senate’s example and pass a long-term funding bill as soon as they return from recess. Businesses rely on a dependable transportation system and jobs are at stake. Getting this bill done is critical to the competitiveness of U.S. industries.”
MAP-21 vows to reauthorize U.S. transportation programs 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 bipartisan EPW bill, led by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate EPW Committee, and Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member of the EPW Committee), 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.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President for Government Affairs Bruce Josten said that MAP-21 addresses two key aspects of highway and transit reauthorization: 1-maintaining minimum investment levels; and 2-containing badly needed policy and program reforms that save time and money and ensures projects are being delivered more quickly.
Mort Downey, CAGTC Chairman and former deputy Transportation Secretary under President Clinton, said in a recent interview that from a goods-movement perspective MAP-21 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.”
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