More Work Ahead for Transportation Authorization

May 5, 2014

By Leslie Wollack

Congress prepares for a busy week on transportation authorization with several upcoming hearings. This comes after Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced last week a multiyear $302 billion highway, bridge, transit and rail program.

This week, the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing with Secretary Foxx, while the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is expected to release a blueprint for their proposal. The House Appropriations Committee, responsible for the actual spending of federal dollars, will begin their review of housing and transportation programs.

The GROW America Act

NLC President Chris Coleman, Mayor of Saint Paul, Minn., applauded the Administration’s “efforts to invest in communities and make transportation investments that contribute to economic growth” and its emphasis on “empowering local decision-making in the process.” He continued, “The nation needs a plan that takes a holistic approach toward the role transportation plays in the economic development and well-being of our communities.” 

Congress is working against a September 30 deadline for expiration of federal surface transportation programs and a possible shortfall in federal revenues by the end of August. Federal fuel taxes will fall below the levels needed to fully fund projects already underway by that date and Congress will need to find revenues to keep the program going. 

The bill, GROW America Act, proposes $199 billion over four years for highway programs, $72 billion for transit programs over four years, adds a rail title to the bill to foster coordination among all the surface transportation modes and authorizes the popular TIGER grant program. 

The proposal, sent to Capitol Hill on April 29 would require an additional $37 billion per year raised from tax reform above revenue from the federal tax on fuel. But the tax reform required to fund this ambitious plan would make passage unlikely by the September 30 deadline for renewal of the current program, MAP-21. 

The bill proposes a series of changes in the metropolitan planning process to limit new Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) within a region if another MPO already exists, and calls for cooperation among multiple MPOs within a region to develop a single transportation improvement plan and long-range plan for the area. The bill also would designate High Performing MPOs for MPOs over 200,000 in population meeting specified criteria to be eligible for sub-allocated funds.

Rail programs would be included in the proposed legislation and fund Amtrak passenger rail and a rail service improvement program. The TIFIA financing program would be funded at the current $1 billion each year and private activity bonds would have an increased cap. In addition, the proposal would provide states greater flexibility to use tolling by allowing any state or public agency to impose variable tolls on existing highways, bridges or tunnels, subject to approval of the Secretary.  

The bill proposes to streamline permitting and regulatory review through a new Interagency Infrastructure Permitting Improvement Center, establishing concurrent rather than sequential reviews and would provide for more transparency in the review process.

The Act also would establish a new $10 billion multimodal freight grant program. The bill does not change the current truck length and width limitations on trucks.

Infrastructure Week

On Thursday, May 15, NLC will join with the American Public Transportation Association, the US Travel Association and the Energy and Environment Study Institute for a discussion of transportation and its economic benefits to communities. An entire week of activities will be devoted to emerging solutions, innovative approaches and best practices in infrastructure. Many will be available online.

Infrastructure Week 2014 will kick off on Saturday, May 12 for National Train Day to highlight passenger rail services as a key economic development tool for communities and an important link in the national transportation network that keeps goods and people moving.

On May 13, NLC will host a webinar with the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association to talk about transportation finance and the experience of two communities expanding tooling.

NLC First Vice President Mayor Ralph Becker will continue the transportation investment discussion with a presentation on Capitol Hill. There will be a live webcast (connection permitting) of the event at www.eesi.org/webcast.