Bill Would Eliminate Feds from Highways


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.

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

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