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House, Senate Pass Five-Year Highway Bill

highwayconstruction 400In a major victory for the aggregates industry, both chambers of Congress have voted to approve The Fixing America's Surface Transportation, or FAST Act. The $305 billion, five-year bill passed the House by a vote of 359 to 65 and the Senate by a vote of 83 to 16. President Obama has signaled that he will sign the bill.

The legislation – the first long-term surface transportation bill in a decade –provides state and local governments greater certainty about transportation funding so they can plan major projects. There have been three-dozen short-term extensions since the last four-year bill expired in 2009. Aggregates operations are certain to be the down-line beneficiaries of the increased federal spending.

The measure, among other things:

  • Authorizes the Highway Trust Fund through 2020.
  • Establishes a pilot program for public-private transit partnerships.
  • Restores the authority of Import-Export bank, which helps foreign customers finance the purchase of U.S. products.
  • Facilitates commerce and the movement of goods by refocusing existing funding for a National Highway Freight Program and a Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects Program.
  • Expands funding available for bridges off the National Highway System.
  • Streamlines the environmental review and permitting process to accelerate project approvals, without sacrificing environmental protections.
  • Eliminates or consolidates at least six separate offices within the Department of Transportation and establishes a National Surface Transportation and Innovative Finance Bureau to help states, local governments, and the private sector with project delivery.
  • Increases transparency by requiring the Department of Transportation to provide project-level information to Congress and the public.
  • Promotes the deployment of transportation technologies and congestion management tools.
  • Encourages installation of vehicle-to-infrastructure equipment to improve congestion and safety

House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who also served as chairman of the Conference Committee called the bill “one of the most important measures this Congress will pass.” He added that the bill is “an investment in America and the infrastructure that underpins our economy. I appreciate the work of all my colleagues on the Transportation Committee and the Conference Committee, on both sides of the aisle, in working to move this legislation forward for our country.”

“This is a common-sense, bipartisan bill that provides our state and local governments with the certainty they need to begin to plan for long-term projects that bring our aging system into the 21st century,” said House T&I Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.)

"Many said a multi-year highway bill would never pass the Senate, but we proved them wrong – and we proved it could actually pass by a wide, bipartisan margin," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), after disputes about taxation and the Export-Import Bank.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, an enthusiastic advocate of the bill, said, “After 36 extensions, hundreds of Congressional meetings, two bus tours, visits to 43 states and so much uncertainty, it has been a long and bumpy ride to a long-term transportation bill. It’s not perfect, and there is still more left to do, but it reflects a bipartisan compromise I always knew was possible.”

The National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) welcomed passage of the bill. “This critical bill gives state and federal governments the funding certainty essential for informed infrastructure investment. Our industry is ready to get to work and help improve the condition, efficiency and safety of America’s roads, highways and bridges,” said Michael W. Johnson, NSSGA president and CEO. “We commend members of Congress for seeing the value of a robust infrastructure to foster economic growth, maintain our global competitiveness and improve the quality of life for Americans.”

While the bill provides five years of funding for infrastructure maintenance and improvements, it does not address the limitations of an 18 cents-per-gallon motor fuel user fee to fund federal portions of infrastructure projects. The next five years will pass very quickly. Congress must turn its focus to creating a sustainable funding mechanism that will ensure the nation’s surface transportation system is stably funded for the 21st century, NSSGA said.

Johnson credited NSSGA members and everyone in the aggregates industry for working tirelessly with the association over the past several years to contact their members of Congress to urge passage of a new, long-term highway bill. “The thousands of emails and phone calls from our grassroots supporters were critical to ensuring that Congress knew the full value of a long-term highway bill. It appears that Congress got the message loud and clear, and I commend everyone in the aggregates industry for its hard work,” he said.

The Portland Cement Association (PCA) signaled its approval of the bill.

“We've waited a long time for this moment; this is the first long-term highway bill since 2005,” said James G. Toscas, PCA president and CEO. “Congress has finally proven to the American people that our nation’s transportation infrastructure is a priority. We applaud the leaders in the House and Senate for a successful bipartisan effort.”

The bill includes several elements proposed by the cement industry, such as the authorization of a federal study to analyze the impact of pavement stiffness on vehicle fuel economy, the reauthorization of the Accelerated Implementation and Deployment of Pavement Technologies (AID-PT) program, and Hours of Service (HOS) exemptions for the ready-mixed concrete industry.

American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) President and CEO Pete Ruane issued the following statement regarding final congressional approval of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act:

“The overwhelming, bipartisan vote for passage of the FAST Act shows once again that transportation infrastructure is a thread that has the capacity to bind America – whether it is red, blue or purple. We thank Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Environment & Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe and Ranking Democrat Barbara Boxer, and House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster and Ranking Democrat Peter DeFazio for their leadership in getting the bill done in a very problematic political environment.

“The good news is that from a public policy standpoint, there are a number of things to like about the FAST Act. It provides five years of funding predictability and less federal red tape for state transportation improvement programs. This, in turn, will help maintain employment, assists the public and private sectors to plan ahead, and it will speed up project delivery.

“It puts in place a reporting process that will provide more transparency and accountability. Highway users will now be able to know how and where their federal fuels taxes are being invested in their community.

“And it creates the program framework to finally start modernizing our National Highway Freight Network. All that is missing is the money to get that job done right.

“And here is the bad news… Congress and the Obama Administration again sidestepped a golden opportunity to put the federal highway and transit investment program back on solid financial footing for the long-term. Five years goes by fast. In four years, state transportation departments will again be staring at a looming funding abyss.

“Congress and the Obama Administration also fell short in providing the level of investment that would result in demonstrable improvement in the overall physical conditions, performance and safety of the system. At best, we will be treading water.

“Unfortunately, a large orange and black ‘Work Ahead’ sign still remains standing in the Nation’s Capital when it comes to providing sustainable and game-changing surface transportation capital investment. ARTBA will be there to remind them.”