EPW Committee Passes Highway Bill

On Monday, May 12, 2014, the bipartisan leadership of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee jointly released the draft text of the committee’s proposal for reauthorization of Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). The bill released by Senate Committee of Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), EPW Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA), EPW’s Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE), and Subcommittee Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-WY) would authorize the nation's Federal-aid highway programs for six years at current funding levels plus inflation. On Thursday morning, the EPW Committee marked-up the draft legislation in a short markup where the Committee adopted by unanimous consent a manager’s amendment and a limited number of individual amendments, before passing the entire package out of committee by voice vote.

The bill authorizes $261.4 billion from the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) for six years, from Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 through FY 2020. Combined with authorized General Fund appropriations totaling $3 billion, the EPW bill authorizes a total of nearly $265 billion resources for federal-aid highway programs. 

The EPW Committee’s jurisdiction is limited to the highway portion of the surface transportation reauthorization effort, meaning that the details of reauthorization for federal public transportation programs will wait until the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, which has jurisdiction over public transportation, releases its draft. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which has jurisdiction over federal rail and highway safety programs, will also need to add its title.

The EPW title does include some provisions of interest to public transportation stakeholders. Several multimodal programs are authorized by the EPW title, including the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan program, which provides loan and loan guarantees to public transportation projects. Under an amendment adopted during the markup, TIFIA funding would be reduced by $250 million annually – to be redirected to Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) research programs, including University Transportation Centers – resulting in an annual authorization of $750 million for TIFIA. There are several changes to the TIFIA loan program as well, including expanded eligibility for joint development improvements. The EPW bill includes a modified version of APTA's TIFIA loans-to-lenders proposal, which would permit DOT to set aside 10 percent of TIFIA funding to capitalize state infrastrucure banks (SIB). SIBs would, in turn, re-loan these funds to smaller highway and transit project sponsors.

This bill creates a $400 million per year program for Projects of National and Regional Significance (PNRS). The PNRS program is modeled after the popular TIGER program, but would be paid for with HTF revenues instead of General Fund appropriations as TIGER is currently funded. Eligible projects would be those currently authorized by the highway or public transportation titles, with a total cost greater than $350 million, although the bill does include a 20 percent cap on rail, transit, and other non-highway projects that can be funded under the newly structured program.

Additionally, the highway title creates a competitive grants program titled the American Transportation Awards (ATA), which has similarities to the FAST program proposed in the Obama Administration’s recent GROW AMERICA Act proposal (see APTA’s recent Legislative Alert). ATA would authorize $125 million annually to support innovation and efficiency by State Departments of Transportation and Metropolitan Planning Organizations.

The basic structure of the current highway title is left intact, with the majority of funding be allocated by formula to states. The bill is the first step in a longer process towards fully reauthorizing the federal surface transportation programs. In its reauthorization recommendations, APTA recommended an annual growth rate slightly under 13 percent. The EPW title would grow the highway programs at just under 2 percent, and while this bill would appear to be a guideline for other committees, there is no indication yet on what funding levels will be provided by the Banking and Commerce Committees as they work through their titles. Ultimately, the key issue for reauthorization will be funding and whether or not the tax committees in Congress are able to identify revenues sufficient to meet the nation’s infrastructure investment needs. With aging infrastructure, a growing backlog of state of good repair needs, and record ridership in the case of public transportation, now APTA is continuing to make the case for growing investment in surface transportation programs.


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