December 9, 2015 | By: Brittney Kohler

This is the second in a series of summaries over the next few weeks on the contents of the newly-passed five-year federal surface transportation authorization law, Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. The first part explored the law’s funding and the future fiscal health of the Highway Trust Fund. The next sections will focus on the policy changes to transit and federal passenger rail programs.

The FAST Act provides $305 billion for highway, transit and railway programs. Of that, $233 billion is for highways, which represents a 15% increase in road and bridge funding over the law’s five-year duration. Most of the percentage bump in highway investment will occur in the first year with the program seeing an immediate five-percent increase.

Below are the highway investment funding levels over the life of the bill:

  • (Pre-FAST Act) Fiscal Year (FY) 2015:  $40.3 billion
  • (Post-FAST Act) FY16:  $42.4 billion
  • FY17:  $43.3 billion
  • FY18:  $44.2 billion
  • FY19:  $45.3 billion
  • FY20:  $46.4 billion

The two main federal highway programs are the National Highway Performance Program (NHPP) and the Surface Transportation Program (STP). NHPP supports improvement of the condition and performance of the National Highway System. Previous law set NHPP funding at $22 billion per year and that number will rise to $24.2 billion by the end of the FAST Act. STP funds have the broadest eligibility and can be used on any federal-aid highway, bridge, transit or non-road transportation project. STP funding was set at $10 billion annually and that program will rise to $12.1 billion by the end of year five.

FREIGHT

The FAST Act establishes and funds two new intermodal freight programs, one formula-based and one that awards grants via a competitive U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) selection. The first is a National Highway Freight Program funded at $1.2 billion annually, which will be divided among all states states via formula. These dollars can be spent on any project that contributes to the efficient movement of freight on a newly yet-to-be-established National Highway Freight Network.

The second new freight program provides $900 million annually for the National Significant Freight and Highway Projects Program and will give USDOT the discretion to select large projects of national and regional significance. These projects must be over $100 million in cost and the minimum grant size is $25 million. The grant’s share of project cost cannot exceed 60 percent and 25 percent of the total awards must be made in rural areas.

INNOVATION

The FAST Act contains a whole section on innovation, with a strong focus on technology deployment. Overall, funding for innovation research and development did not grow much, but a few new programs were created that will siphon-off dollars from existing programs.

A new $20 million annual Surface Transportation System Funding Alternatives Program was created to give grants to states to explore user-based funding alternatives to the gas tax and provide long-term funding certainty to the Highway Trust Fund. The law establishes a new Performance Management Data Support program to develop and maintain data sets and data analysis tools to assist metropolitan planning organizations in conducting performance management analyses.

The FAST Act also redirects $60 million annually from the Highway Research and Development Program; the Technology and Innovation Program; and Intelligent Transportation Systems Research programs to a new Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment Program. This new program will provide grants which USDOT will select via a competitive process to develop model deployment sites for large scale installation and operation of technologies in areas such as infrastructure monitoring, vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, and technologies associated with autonomous vehicles, among other items.

ENVIRONMENTAL

The FAST Act builds on the current law’s progress in favor of environmental streamlining and efforts to accelerate project delivery. The FAST Act empowers USDOT and its agencies to serve as the lead federal agency on environmental reviews and sets a 45-day clock on USDOT inviting other agencies into the process. The law requires the lead agency to seek public input as soon as possible and prohibits the re-opening of any issues resolved by the agency unless significant new information arises. The FAST Act also requires the lead agency to prepare an environmental impact statement within 90 days and establish a schedule of completion for the environmental review process as part of its coordination plan.

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