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Markup Begins on $547B Highway Bill

Thursday, June 10, 2021

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Yesterday (June 9), the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee began what is believed will be a days-long mark up process on the recently introduced Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in America) Act.

The $547 billion surface transportation reauthorization bill was introduced on June 4 by Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), Chair of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-Washington D.C.) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-New Jersey).

INVEST in America Act

Reported to be a five-year plan, the INVEST in America Act is slated to meet President Joe Biden’s vision of getting people to work and addressing the climate crisis, as outlined in his American Jobs Plan, by creating millions of jobs and modernizing the nation’s infrastructure.

According to a press release issued by the Committee, the legislation provides a new approach to federal transportation policy by emphasizing fixes on existing roads and bridges, as well as making record investments in passenger rail, public transit, cycling and walking infrastructure. The Act also includes zero-emission options, while creating safer, more connected communities.

The legislation acknowledges the Buy America provisions and labor protections and reports that the work outlined in the Act will be fueled by American workers, manufacturing, and ingenuity, with targeted investments in rural and underserved communities.

levkr / Getty Images

Yesterday (June 9), the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee began what is believed will be a days-long mark up process on the recently introduced Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in America) Act.

“The benefits of transformative investments in our infrastructure are far-ranging: we can create and sustain good-paying jobs, many of which don’t require a college degree, restore our global competitiveness, tackle climate change head-on, and improve the lives of all Americans through modern infrastructure that emphasizes mobility and access, and spurs our country’s long-term economic growth,” DeFazio said. “The INVEST in America Act puts a core piece of President Biden’s American Jobs Plan into legislative text—seizing this once-in-a-generation opportunity to move our transportation planning out of the 1950s and toward our clean energy future. Let’s get this done.”

Looking at the numbers, the INVEST in America Act plans to provide $343 billion for roads, bridges, and safety (with $32 billion specifically outlined for bridge funding); $109 billion for transit; and $95 billion for passenger and freight rail. Of that, some $4 billion plans to be invested in electric vehicle charging infrastructure, while another $8.3 billion would go to activities to reduce carbon pollution.

“This investment in our nation’s future will encourage more Americans to use rail transportation, reduce traffic congestion, lower carbon emissions and reduce the effects of climate change,” Payne said.

The bill also places emphasis on equity through initiatives such as reauthorizing and updating the DOT’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program and establishing apprenticeship goals for the largest highway grant programs with an emphasis on employing traditionally underrepresented populations, among others.

Included in the legislation, the bill also outlines member designated projects which plan to advance surface transportation authorization legislation later this spring, building on H.R. 2, the “Moving Forward Act,” from the 116th Congress. The initial Moving Forward Act was introduced in June 2020, calling for an increase in funding for road and bridge repairs, in addition to funding for clean drinking water.

Currently, the highway bill includes a variety of projects of both vast and local proposals and fall mostly within the $1 million to $5 million range. In total, the bill includes $5.7 billion in earmarks—a little more than one-third of the $14.9 billion members requested.

Of the 605 projects requested by Republicans, nearly 67% were selected, while of the 1,778 projects Democrats requested, 1,067, or 60%, were selected. Additionally, 38 projects were split among multiple members, with three of those projects providing funding to both Democratic and Republican districts for the same project.

Recent Highway Strides

At the end of May, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously voted in favor of a five-year, $303.5 billion highway bill. The vote was touted as a rare case of congressional bipartisanship as the White House and Senate negotiators continue its efforts to land on a new, broader multi-sector infrastructure package.

According to reports, the last highway legislation to be passed was the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which former President Barrack Obama signed in 2015. Differing from the FAST Act, the latest legislation represents an increase of roughly 34% in additional funding and is noted to be the largest component of a surface transportation package.

Major points in the legislation as it continues to be developed are the $18 billion its outlined for climate emission reduction in the transportation sector. The allotted funding includes $2.5 billion to construct charging stations for electric vehicles and fueling stations for hydrogen cell-powered vehicles as well.

In addition, the bill is also projected to provide $500 million to rehabilitate and retrofit infrastructure to better withstand the weather effects of climate change, such as more powerful hurricanes and increased wildfires, among others.

Like the popular INFRA grant program (formerly TIGER grants), the bill outlines a $2 billion Rural Surface Transportation Grant program, which plan to be awarded via competitions among the states and other applicants and creates a separate discretionary grant program for bridges.

Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Delaware) has also reported that the legislation will address transportation “inequity,” or in his terms, past transportation projects "that have divided and harmed too many neighborhoods across our nation.”

Because of this, Capito pointed out that 90% of the highway bill’s funding plans to be distributed via formula to the states and that additional provisions plan to speed federal regulatory approvals for transportation projects. That provision will give states “the flexibility and the certainty necessary to get those projects,” she said, but it also codifies the “One Federal Decision” initiative created in a 2017 executive order signed by former President Donald Trump.

On the provision, Linda Bauer Darr, American Council of Engineering Companies' President and CEO, said that One Final Decision “is crucial for engineering firms conducting environmental reviews, advising on mitigation measures and acting as trusted advisors for clients navigating federal and state regulatory requirements.”

However, state representatives are still ironing out sections associated with transit and highway safety. The Banking, Commerce and Finance committees are also reported to be working on revenue aspects for the legislation as well. Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is currently working with Republican Patrick Toomey (Pennsylvania) on those efforts, specifically.

Additional efforts from the House will also be required prior to the bill’s passing. Legislators will have to act quickly though, as the existing FAST Act extension is slated to lapse by Sept. 30.

The new $303.5 billion highway bill is still pending considerations on the Senate floor.

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Funding; Government; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; Mass transit; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Public Transit; Rail; Roads/Highways

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