Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) unanimously approved a six-year, $278 billion federal highway portion of the surface transportation authorization bill, the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act. The DRIVE Act was unveiled earlier this week by EPW Committee leaders Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Subcommittee Chairman David Vitter (R-LA) and committee member Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE).
The bill would increase funding levels for highway programs by approximately $2.5 billion per year. The responsibility to identify how to pay for that increase, along with the annual Highway Trust Fund shortfall of $15 billion, belongs to the Senate Finance Committee. Tomorrow the Finance Committee will hold a hearing on transportation financing, where in testimony to the Committee ASCE underscored the importance of public support for funding as necessary to improving future financing opportunities. While Finance is still determining how they would like to pay for the DRIVE Act, in a recent interview with ASCE, Chairman Inhofe noted that he believes that General Fund revenues plus dollars from any corporate repatriation tax changes could address the funding gap. In addition to Finance, there are a few other Senate committees that need to act before the July 31 deadline to approve their transportation policy pieces, like transit and driver safety items.
ASCE sent a support letter to Senate leaders in favor of the DRIVE Act and President Bob Stevens issued a statement where he said, “The DRIVE Act achieves many of the goals that we as civil engineers believe must be addressed in the next surface transportation reauthorization and accomplishes these goals in a bipartisan fashion.” Some of the policy items contained in the DRIVE Act that ASCE supports include:
- Increased program funding over a six-year period;
- Multi-year program certainty that will help states and localities better plan and deliver projects;
- Prioritizing funding for bridge maintenance and repair;
- A focus on Interstate Highway System maintenance;
- Establishment of a new freight program, funded at $2 billion annually, to improve goods movement;
- Establishment of a new competitive grant program for large highway projects;
- Increased accounting and reader-friendly reporting of how Highway Trust Fund dollars are spent;
- Accelerated project delivery reforms aimed to improve collaboration between agencies and create deadlines for agency action(s);
- An option for rural areas to bundle small projects such as bridges to increase efficiency;
- Encouragement of agencies on resilience planning and natural disaster risk reduction;
- Expanding tolling to be available for use on all new Interstate Highway System lane construction projects;
- Creating a new intelligent transportation systems grant to accelerate technology deployment; and
- Providing grants to states for continued and expanded pilot testing of future road user fee collection systems.
From now until the July 31 deadline, ASCE will need your help in keeping the pressure on Congress to move quickly and approve the DRIVE Act as well as a sustainable, long-term funding proposal that will #FixTheTrustFund.