President Obama signed a $105 billion transportation bill into law on July 6, bringing to an end a three-year battle over road and transit spending. The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21 ), also known as the Transportation Reauthorization Bill, passed by a vote of 373-52 in the House of Representatives and 74-19 in the Senate.
“This measure includes a number of reforms – cutting red tape and consolidating or eliminating nearly 70 federal programs,” says Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL). The unprecedented reforms in the transportation bill will streamline the lengthy project approval process, consolidate or eliminate federal programs, and ensure that states have more flexibility to direct limited resources to high-priority needs, according to a press release issued by the House.
Mica led the House conferees in reaching agreement with the Senate on the final transportation policy and reform bill. “This bill will provide a major boost to our economy by putting Americans back to work building our nation’s bridges and highways,” says Mica.
Mica continues, “This measure also shrinks the federal bureaucracy. Two-thirds of federal transportation programs are consolidated or eliminated, and states will be given more authority to focus on their most pressing needs and determine how to spend their resources. States will be given the opportunity to opt out of burdensome requirements to spend money on planting roadside flowers if they decide they need to invest more gas tax funds on improving roads and bridges.
“Although the previous transportation law contained over 6,300 earmarks, this bill has none,” Mica says. “This legislation is paid for and does not deficit-spend. This is a responsible bill with real reforms that will boost employment in the particularly hard-hit construction industry, and ensure that hard-earned taxpayer dollars are more effectively spent in improving America’s infrastructure,”
“The average highway project in the United States takes 15 years from concept to completion, far more than any other developed nation,” says U.S. Rep. John Duncan, Jr. (R-TN), Chairman of the House Highways and Transit Subcommittee. “We have got to cut the red tape and speed up these projects. This bill goes further in streamlining environmental rules and regulations than any previous highway bill.”
The bipartisan, bicameral conference report to H.R. 4348 will fund federal highway, transit and highway safety programs at current funding levels through the end of fiscal year 2014, allowing states to plan and undertake major transportation improvements.
Highlights of the measure’s transportation program reforms include:
Streamlining the Project Delivery Process – Completing a major highway project can take 15 years, but only a fraction of that time involves actual construction. While projects navigate the approval process, construction costs escalate.
This measure streamlines the project approval process, adding much needed common sense and efficiency. Specifically, the measure:
- Sets Deadlines: For slow-moving projects, the Secretary must set deadlines to make sure all approvals occur within 4 years, or agencies lose funding through an automatic rescission.
- Sets NEPA Funding Threshold: Mandates a rulemaking to classify projects with a small amount of federal funding ($5 million) as a categorical exclusion.
- Expedites Projects in the Right of Way: Mandates a rulemaking for classifying projects within an existing “operational right of way” as a categorical exclusion.
- Expedites Projects Destroyed by Disaster: Mandates a rulemaking to classify projects being rebuilt after a disaster as a categorical exclusion.
- State Law Standing in for Federal Law: Requires a study on which state laws provide the same level of protection as federal law.
Program Reform & Consolidation – Since the creation of the Highway Trust Fund and the core highway and bridge programs, numerous additional federal programs have been created, diluting the focus of the Trust Fund. Currently there are more than 100 programs. In the last four years, $35 billion in general fund transfers have been necessary to maintain Highway Trust Fund solvency.
The measure also consolidates and eliminates programs, and better focuses limited gas tax revenues on critical needs:
- Consolidates the number of surface transportation programs by two-thirds.
- Eliminates dozens of programs and makes more resources available with flexibility to states and metropolitan areas.
- Lowers total transportation enhancements program funding by $200 million and gives states the flexibility to use 50 percent of this money on construction projects.
- Incentivizes, rather than penalizes, states to partner with the private sector to finance and operate transportation projects.
- No Earmarks – While the previous surface transportation law contained more than 6,300 earmarks, this is the first surface transportation bill in decades that does not contain any earmarks.
The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) says it is grateful to the efforts its members made in responding to the association’s legislative alerts and contacting local senators and representatives at key points in the legislative process.
AGC provides a summary of Provisions in MAP-21 that Impact the highway and transportation construction industry included below:
- Provides funding certainty through fiscal year (FY) 2014 (Sept. 30, 2014)
- The bill provides current funding levels plus inflation. Obligation limit for the federal-aid highway program is $39.7 billion in FY 2013 and $40.25 billion in FY 2014. Federal transit programs are provided $10.6 billion in FY2013 and $10.7 billion in FY 2014.
- Eliminates equity bonus program and, instead, distributes highway formula funds to states based on each state’s share of total highway funds distributed in FY 2012. Every state is guaranteed a minimum return of 95 percent of its payments into the HTF.
- Increases funding for and expands the Transportation Infrastructure Finance & Innovation Act (TIFIA) program.
- Increases available TIFIA resources from $122 million per year ($244 million total for two years) to $1.75 billion for this two year period – an amount more than 14 times larger than previous amounts.
- Enables TIFIA loans to be applied to related groups of projects, rather than a single project.
- Allows TIFIA to pay for a larger share of project costs (increased from 33 percent to 49 percent)
- Expands opportunities for rural projects
- Does not penalize states pursuing public-private partnerships (PPPs) involving leasing of road facilities to private companies.
- New capacity can be tolled on all existing federal-aid (road, bridge) facilities (this eliminates the cap on slots in the interstate tolling and value pricing pilot programs). No existing untolled lanes can be tolled, and there have to be as many toll-free lanes as tolled lanes on the facility.
- Supports PPPs for public transportation projects, requiring FTA to provide technical assistance and best practice information to federal transit grant recipients on PPP models and methods to use private providers for public transit.
Consolidation of Federal Highway Programs
- Reduces the number of highway programs by two-thirds
Four “core” programs are:
- National Highway Performance Program – to improve condition and performance of the National Highway System (NHS). Consolidation of NHS and IM, and aspects of the Bridge program.
- Surface Transportation Program – with broad eligibility for any public road suballocated to local governments based on population. Can also be used for bridges off of the federal-aid system.
- Highway Safety Improvement Program – for road infrastructure safety, Includes a set-aside for rail grade crossings.
- Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program
Renames enhancements as transportation alternatives and lifts the requirement that a state must spend 10 percent of their Surface Transportation Program funding for these types of projects.
- Sets aside 2 percent of each state’s apportionments to be used on eligible transportation alternative projects
- Transportation alternative funding will be split, with 50 percent provided to local governments and 50 percent to states
- States cannot opt out of the transportation alternative set-aside entirely and use funds for transportation improvements
- 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.
- Does not create a separate category or program for freight with formula funding.
- Establishes a national freight policy and requires development of a national freight strategic plan and designation of a primary freight network.
- Authorizes a Projects of Regional and National Significance program (general funded, requires appropriations).
Integrates performance measures for Metropolitan Planning Organizations and States that will be developed with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to assess the condition of the facilities and operation of roads and bridges and establish performance targets.
- Contains significant reforms in the environmental review and planning process designed to reduce project delivery time and costs, including:
- Expands the number and types of projects that can be excluded from the federal environmental review process.
- Encourages early coordination between relevant agencies to avoid delays later in the review process and directs DOT to develop specific review deadlines.
- Designates the U.S. DOT as the lead agency for the review and approval of transportation projects. DOT to encourage deadlines for actions by other federal agencies.
- Allows for programmatic decisions instead of project by project decisions.
- Limits federal National Environmental Policy Act review requirements for projects that are less than $5 million or where Federal funds are less than 15 percent of the project costing more than $30 million.
- Expands the category of projects that are automatically excluded from the federal environmental review process, including emergency projects, many maintenance projects and reconstruction projects.
- Provides expedited procedures for approval of projects with minimal environmental impact.
- Allows for the purchase of right-of-way and for design to begin prior to final environmental clearance.
- Allows states to use the Construction Management General Contracting (CMGC). CMGC uses a two-step procurement process where the CMGC is selected using price and best value.
- Creates incentives for states to use innovative contracting practices and use of new technologies.
Work Zone Safety
- Calls for the use of positive barriers where workers are exposed to high-volume, high-speed traffic and calls for unit price bidding in most cases.
Applies Buy America requirements to any project and project segments that are funded in part with Federal funds.
For states with PM 2.5 non-attainment areas, requires that 25 percent of state’s Construction Mitigation & Air Quality Improvement funds be used for projects in those areas that reduce PM. Projects can include diesel retrofit programs for on and off-road diesel powered equipment operating on a highway construction project in the non-attainment area.
- Does not include the Senate provision creating a new regulatory regime within the Surface Transportation Board that had the potential to stifle the growing passenger rail market.
- The House provision amending the Solid Waste Disposal Act to classify fly ash as a nonhazardous waste was not included in the conference report.
The conference report urges states to encourage contractors to make a best faith effort to hire veterans. Transit contractors will be encouraged to use a veterans hiring preference.
Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund
The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) provision in the House bill was not included in the conference report. Instead it provides a sense that the Administration fully utilized HMTF collection for intended activities.
Includes a new requirement that the president include, as part of the annual budget, an assessment of the percentage of the eligible channels that would be maintained with the Army Corps’ budget request, as well as an assessment of the amount necessary to reach 95 percent availability of navigation channels over a 3-year period.