UPDATE: The House of Representatives passed the transportation conference report by a vote of 373-52 Friday afternoon. The Senate passed the bill 74-19.
The House and Senate worked vigorously all week to come to a compromise surface transportation conference report on Wednesday night. The announcement of a deal came over 1,000 days after the last surface transportation bill, SAFETEA-LU, expired in September 2009. The conference deal, which runs through the end of September 2014, will keep transportation spending at current levels and extend the authority to collect gasoline taxes through September 2016. The deal will be voted on today, first by the Senate, with the House following shortly thereafter. The bill is expected to pass through both chambers and be signed by the President before the 9th extension to surface transportation programs expires on Saturday.
The House and Senate agreement on Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), will set highway spending at $39.7 billion in fiscal 2013 and $40.3 billion in fiscal 2014. Mass transit formula grants would be set at $8.5 billion in fiscal 2013 and $8.6 billion in fiscal 2014. Additional revenues will mostly come from collecting revenues from changes to federal pensions and moving money from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank trust fund into the Highway Trust Fund.
The new bill makes significant programmatic reforms, many of which ASCE has been long supported. The deal consolidates federal programs in an attempt to make them more competitive and streamlines the environmental review process to speed project delivery. The bill also has a focus on performance standards for highway and bridge maintenance, and ties some funding to whether states meet performance goals laid out in the bill.
The TIFIA grant program will see a substantial increase to $750 million in 2013 and $1 billion in 2014, a move which ASCE strongly advocated for over the past few months. The TIFIA program will also now operate on a first-come, first served basis, removing evaluation criteria.
Next, the Transportation Enhancements program will also see some changes. First, the program will now be called the Transportation Alternative program and each state will set-aside 2 percent of the amount apportioned for their enhancement activities. However, if these funds are not allocated within the state, the state may transfer up to 50% of those funds to other programs.
MAP-21 also includes the RESTORE Act language, which would establish the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund. The trust fund would contain 80% of all penalties paid from parties responsible for the gulf coast oil spill in order to pay for the extensive clean-up efforts. ASCE, through the Water Resources Coalition has been supportive of the inclusion of the RESTORE Act language.
Additionally, MAP-21 expands the ability of states to place tolls on any Federal-aid facility for any new capacity and removes the Bingaman amendment, which ASCE opposed, that would have reduced highway formula funds for states that sell or lease toll facilities to private companies.
Finally, turning to research, the bill provides $400 million for transportation research and authorizes 35 competitive grants to be provided annually for University Transportation Centers, a move which ASCE supported.
We’re happy to see that Congress came to a bipartisan agreement on surface transportation programs and worked to get a bill done by June 30th. However, it must be noted that this is just a critical first step to raising the grades for our nation’s surface transportation system. As ASCE has documented, we are not investing nearly enough to bring our roads, bridges, and transit systems to an acceptable condition that will serve our economy in the long-run. Therefore, ASCE will continue to work with Congress on a long-term, reliable funding source to meet these goals.