Congress has finally passed a surface transportation bill ending three years of gridlock and ensuring program continuation.
By Mark S. Kuhar
This development was breaking at press time, and Rock Products held publication of its issue so it could include this important news. Look for additional reporting in future issues. – Ed.
Our long national nightmare is temporarily over. Both houses of Congress passed the surface transportation conference report, a bipartisan, bicameral legislative package that will fund the nation’s roads, bridges and mass transit for the next 27 months. The bill – the Moving Ahead For Progress In The 21st Century Act (Map-21) – assures the employment of 3 million Americans in the construction industry, where unemployment has outpaced the national rate. Additionally, the bill includes historic reforms that consolidate programs and eliminate redundancies, as well as expedite the project approval process.
The House moved first, passing the measure with a final vote of 373 to 52, with all dissenters coming from the Republican side of the aisle, according to the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA). The Senate, after first moving through a series of votes to override points of order against considering the bill, passed the conference report 74 to 19, with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) voting “present.” Again, all “No” votes were Republicans.
To ensure adequate time for proper enrollment of the bill, and to prepare it for the president’s signature, the House and Senate also passed brief extensions of the current law through July 6. This is nothing more than a technicality and simply allows members and congressional staff enough time to count pages, spot glaring mistakes and send a complete and final version of the bill to the president for his signature. The White House has yet to announce when and where the president will sign the bill.
NSSGA said it is pleased that Congress passed the long-overdue surface transportation reauthorization bill, and congratulates Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who co-chaired the conference committee and worked tirelessly to bring together the wildly differing views of the 47-member committee to reach a final agreement.
NSSGA thanked all its members and state executives for their diligence and perseverance in getting Congress to finally act on this vital piece of legislation. “Without your time, energy and support, our nation’s federal highway system would not survive,” the association said in a statement.
“This bill will help put the aggregates industry back on the road to economic growth,” said NSSGA President and CEO Joy Pinniger. “Every $1 million in aggregates sales creates 19.5 jobs, and every dollar of industry output returns $1.58 to the economy.” She noted that the bill includes historic reforms that consolidate programs and eliminate program redundancies, as well as expediting the project approval process.
With the passage of Map-21, NSSGA and all other transportation stakeholders must now begin working with members of Congress and the administration to conceive a comprehensive surface transportation plan for the 21st Century, including development of a new, long-term mechanism to ensure sustainable funding of the nation’s surface transportation network well into the future.
The new bill:
Stabilizes Highway Trust Fund – Quite possibly the most important thing that Map-21 does is to stabilize the Highway Trust Fund and the highway and transit programs through Sept. 30, 2014. This is one year longer than either the House or Senate bills had provided for. It does this (1) by authorizing the highway and transit programs through September 30, 2014, and (2) by transferring $21.2 billion into the Highway Trust Fund. Of the amount transferred into the HTF, $18.8 billion is from the General Fund and $2.4 billion is from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund.
Funding Levels – Map-21 funds the surface transportation at about current FY 2012 levels, adjusted slightly for inflation in FYs 2013 and 2014.
Total funding for all surface transportation programs, including mass transit general funds, for FYs 2013 and 2014 is about $105.201 billion and breaks down as follows (in billions):
- FY 2013: $52.253
- FY 2014: $52.949
Of these amounts, the highway program would receive (i.e., the obligation limit) the following (in billions):
- FY 2013: $39.699
- FY 2014: $40.256
Consolidates Federal-aid Highway Programs – Map-21 eliminates or consolidates approximately 60 highway programs. It restructures the highway program around four core programs:
- National Highway Performance Program: Provides $22.25 billion in FY 2013 and $22.4 billion in FY 2014 to improve the condition and performance of the National Highway System. This program consolidates the existing Interstate Maintenance and National Highway System formula programs, and aspects of the existing Highway Bridge program that cover bridges on the Federal-aid system.
- Surface Transportation Program: Provides $10.2 billion in FY 2013 and $10.3 billion in FY 2014 to assist states and local governments to improve the condition and performance of Federal-aid highways and bridges on any public road. This program would continue to provide broad eligibility and would be suballocated within the state to local governments based on population.
- Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP): Provides $2.44 billion in FY 2013 and $2.46 billion in FY 2014 annually to support projects that improve the safety of road infrastructure. Continues to set-aside $225 million in HSIP funds for highway- railway grade crossings. Eliminates set-aside for high-risk rural roads, but continues eligibility for these activities under HSIP.
- Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program (CMAQ): Provides $2.26 billion in FY 2013 and $2.28 billion for CMAQ program. Removes current law prohibition on construction of single-occupancy vehicle lanes.
Distribution of Funds – Map-21 eliminates all formula factors for individual highway programs. Instead, it distributes highway formula funds to states based on each state’s share of total highway funds distributed in FY 2012. It ensures that every state would be guaranteed a minimum return of 95 percent of its payments into the HTF.
- Streamlines Project Delivery Process.
- Makes historic reforms in the project delivery process.
- Certain activities will be designated as categorical exclusions under
- Repair or reconstruction of roads, highways, and bridges damaged in a disaster or “declared emergency.”
- Any project within existing “operational” right-of-way.
- Projects receiving less than $5 million in federal funds.
- Projects with total costs greater than $30 million receiving federal funds of less than 15 percent of the project cost.
- It permits advance acquisition of right-of-way prior to completion of NEPA reviews. It shortens statute of limitations for filing a challenge to a project from 180 days to 150 days after the Record of Decision.
- It allows programmatic approaches for environmental reviews, and a single federal agency to be the lead in a multi-modal project.
- It establishes deadlines for decision making by lead agency and other federal agencies with responsibility for environmental review; financial penalties for agencies that do not complete reviews by certain deadlines.
- It allows DOT to use funds to augment staff and resources at federal and state agencies involved in a review.
Earmarks – Map-21 does NOT contain any earmarks.
Freight Focus – Map-21 provides incentives for states to create freight plans. If a project is on the state freight plan the federal share would go from 80 percent to 90 percent for non-Interstate projects, on the plan, and from 90 to 95 percent for projects on the Interstate system, in order to give states incentives to prioritize freight mobility projects.
It establishes a national freight policy and requires development of a national freight strategic plan and requires designation of a primary freight network.
It authorizes a Projects of Regional and National Significance program (requires general fund appropriation).
Map-21 does not, however, create a separate category or program for freight with formula funding.
Innovative Financing – Map-21 expands project financing and public-private partnership opportunities.
It increases the annual funding available for Federal credit assistance under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program from $122 million to $750 million in FY 2013 and $1 billion in FY 2014. It removes all evaluation criteria for projects seeking credit assistance, and provides funds for eligible projects on a first-come, first-serve basis. In addition to providing project-by-project credit assistance, Map-21 allows credit assistance to be provided for a program of projects through a master credit agreement.
With respect to tolling and public-private partnerships, Map-21 expands the ability of states to place tolls on any Federal-aid facility (including the Interstate) for any new capacity. In the case of new capacity being added to existing facility, the number of new tolled lanes cannot exceed the number of free lanes. It does not include the provision from the Senate bill that had reduced highway formula funds for states that sell or lease toll facilities to private companies.
Stronger Accountability and Performance Measures ¬– Map-21 provides for a performance-based approach in metropolitan and statewide planning processes.