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Bill Would Eliminate Feds from Highways

Thursday, November 21, 2013

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Congressional Republicans are trying for a third time to remove the federal government from its role in the U.S. highway and surface transportation system.

A new bill would phase out federal funding of transportation projects; drastically slash gasoline taxes; and put responsibility on individual states to decide how, when, what and where to build transportation infrastructure.

The Transportation Empowerment Act, or TEA (TEA) (H.R. 3486 and  S.1702) was proposed Nov. 14 by Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT).

The House bill had 23 co-sponsors as of Wednesday (Nov. 20); the Senate version, three, according to Congress's legislative tracking websie.

The act would transfer almost all authority over federal highway and transit programs to the states over a five-year phase-out, during which states would receive block grants. Over the same time period, the federal gas tax would be lowered from 18.4 cents to 3.7 cents.

Local Control

"Under the Transportation Empowerment Act, Americans would no longer have to send significant gas-tax revenue to Washington, where sticky-fingered politicians, bureaucrats, and lobbyists take their cut before sending it back with strings attached," said Lee.

The bill says that the federal government has "usurped" state authority in highway and other transportation systems.

Rep. Tom Graves  Sen. Mike Lee

Rep. Tom Graves (left) and Sen Mike Lee (right) introduced the "Transportation Empowerment Act," which would end phase out federal funding of surface transportation and shift those decisions to the states.

According to Graves' website, the act aims to open up the transportation system to "greater local control, better targeted projects, and a more efficient way to maintain and improve the nation's infrastructure."

"People want to spend less time in traffic and more time enjoying life,"Graves said in a statement.

"Our bill does away with the Washington middleman and streamlines the highway program, allowing more projects to be completed at a lower cost.

"This approach paves the way for commuters to move more easily between home and work, freeing up important family time and cutting out hours of frustration behind the wheel."

The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Committees on Ways and Means and the Budget. In the Senate, the measure has been sent to the Committee on Finance.

Determining Needs: State vs. Federal

According to the proposed legislation, each state has the means to build its own transportation systems and is capable of determining its own needs.

Transportation Empowerment Bill
© iStock / dan_prat

The proposed bill would transfer almost all authority over federal highway and transit programs to the states over a five-year phase-out.

"Federal mandates that apply uniformly to all 50 States, regardless of the different circumstances of the States, cause the States to waste billions of hard-earned tax dollars on projects, programs, and activities that the States would not otherwise undertake ..." the bill reads.

Each state should plan for its own infrastructure needs, backers say. Lee said, "Instead, states and cities could plan, finance, and build better-designed and more affordable projects.

"Local communities should finally have the flexibility to develop the kind of transportation system they want, for less money, without politicians and special interests from other parts of the country telling them how, when, what, and where they should build."


Under the measure, the federal government would still be responsible for transportation facilities on federal public land, national programs of transportation research and development and transportation safety, and emergency assistance to the states in response to natural disasters.

The proposed bill appropriates funds from the Highway Trust Fund for the federal-aid highway program in decreasing increments each year from 2015 through 2019.

Each of those years would see $100 million in emergency relief funds, $300 million for federal lands program, and $250 million for federal lands access programs.

A bill by the same name was introduced in 1996 and re-introduced in 1997, but failed both times.


Tagged categories: Department of Transportation (DOT); Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Funding; Government; Laws and litigation; Program/Project Management; Roads/Highways; Transportation

Comment from Rob Jorden, (11/21/2013, 1:19 PM)

You think the roads are bad now wait until something like this goes through. This seems to be the answer by some just let the states do it

Comment from Jim Johnson, (11/21/2013, 2:22 PM)

This bill would make a huge difference, and in a positive manner. It has been proven many times over the federal government is incapable of effective management of the funds we give it. And the Congressmen are right, each state has different needs, and the funding always comes back with strings attached. The highways of New York have very different needs than a state such as Wyoming. A one size fits all plan does not work as shown by our current highway situation. If the gas tax money went directly to a state there would be an immediate 10 to 20% savings for no other reason other than the beltway bandits did not get their hands on it. Time and time again the states have shown they can manage themselves more efficiently and effectively than the federal government can. Another 10%+ savings would exist just in not having to fulfill the "strings attached" requirements that currently exist. All in all this legislation could improve highways dramatically and in a relatively short time.

Comment from Karin Wilson, (11/21/2013, 5:37 PM)

"The highways of New York have very different needs than a state such as Wyoming." I wonder how will the lesser populated states such as Wyoming,Montana,Dakotas and such will be able to maintain their roads, with less revenue? That is the what the Fed. Fund is there for. I believe anyone whom travels cross county will agree. I agree with Rob, This is a bad idea.

Comment from Car F., (11/22/2013, 11:31 AM)

Welcome to a patch-work of highway standards [or lack of it]. Wealthier States will be able to afford better roads than poorer States, something similar to education, sewer system, water distribution, environment, safety…etc…etc… thus resulting in switching from a motor vehicle to a horse-and-buggy depending in which State you are travelling,…and this is progress according to some Neanderthals??..

Comment from William Feliciano, (11/25/2013, 12:28 PM)

Instead of trying to pass this bill, all the Congressional Republicans have to do is simple: sit on your hands and don't meddle with the gas tax money. The "sticky fingered politicians they are referring to..are THEMSELVES!(Congressmen on both sides of the aisle). What the..?? Let's see, let's pass a bill to save America from us. This wreaks of privatization. I must admit that the first thing that came to my mind was the possibility of disparate highway standards on the interstate system, just as Car F. mentions above. Congress - always out of touch with reality. Right now, the states aren't complaining about FHWA oversight and regulation so much as they are complaining about the lack of $$ coming from Washington to fix roads and bridges. Who cares about the "how, when, what and where"(as they put it)when there isn't enough money to even make a dent in the corrosion losses each State is suffering on the interstate highway system? They are so out of touch that their true intention sticks out like a sore thumb.

Comment from Carl Thompson, (11/25/2013, 2:17 PM)

Get real Congress. How about bringing back our soldiers and put them to work repairing roads, bridges, infrastructure. You Republicans are always ready to spend money on military equipment, planes, ships, manpower, things that we don't need. With drones all we need is intelligence. Something you in Congress seem to be lacking.

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