Yesterday, newly-minted House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) shepherded through his first piece of major legislation with bipartisan passage of a six-year, $325 billion surface transportation reauthorization bill. The Surface Transportation Reauthorization & Reform (STRR) Act of 2015 cleared the House by a vote of 363-64. A last-minute amendment was added to STRR that secured an additional $40 billion in revenue from an unused Federal Reserve account. This means that while the House bill is now funded for a full six-years, it still does not increase highway and transit funding levels over the current amount.
Following the bill’s passage, ASCE President Mark W. Woodson, P.E., F.ASCE, released a statement saying, “While the House-passed bill provides six years of stability for the nation’s road, bridge, and transit programs, it fails to increase funding to levels that are adequate to properly maintain our infrastructure.” Mark went on to state that, “ASCE is disappointed that House leadership prevented a vote on raising the federal gas tax – a policy solution that would have provided long-term funding and certainty that states desperately need to move forward with their transportation projects." ASCE endorsed multiple amendments that were offered to raise the gas tax, including one by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), however none of those amendments were allowed to receive a full vote on the House floor.
An amendment that was defeated, which ASCE weighed-in against, was a sense of Congress resolution introduced by Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) in support of the concept of devolving the federal transportation program to the states.
Some highlights of the House bill include:
• Multi-year program certainty that will help states and localities better plan and deliver projects;
• Accelerated project delivery reforms aimed to improve collaboration between agencies and create deadlines for agency action(s);
• Providing grants to states for continued and expanded pilot testing of future road user fee collection systems;
• A new competitive grant to address bus and bus facility needs;
• Increased focus on funding for roadway safety infrastructure and on the safety needs of rural roads; and
• An option for localities to bundle small projects such as bridges to increase efficiency.
The House vote follows previous Senate action in July on its surface transportation bill, which provided only three years of funding although at much higher levels. Now the House and Senate will work to negotiate a compromise before the looming November 20 deadline. ASCE will be reviewing the House and Senate bills to determine which provisions we favor to be included in any final agreement. On funding, ASCE urges a final bill be multi-year with sizable funding increases for highway and transit programs. Be sure to check this blog regularly in the coming days and weeks to get more updates on how you can help our advocacy effort to #FixTheTrustFund.
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