The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee approved America’s Transportation and Infrastructure Act (ATIA) 2019 to reauthorize Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) July 30. The law does not need to be reauthorized until next year, and several other committees will need to approve separate titles, including the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which is expected to release its title in the early fall and focus more on multimodal programs outside of the highway title, according to a news release from American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), Alexandria, Virginia. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee also is working on a bill, but it is not projected to be released until spring 2020.
Additional items in the bill include more than $6 billion for a new competitive bridge investment grant program and increased transparency requirements for public-private partnership (P3) projects, the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC), Chicago, says.
"A long-term, robust highway bill will put more Americans to work and energize commerce and quality of life across the cities, towns, and rural areas of our nation," says AISC President Charles J. Carter, SE, PE, Ph.D.
The FAST Act five-year reauthorization (2021-2025) calls for $287 billion in spending—a 27 percent increase over existing funding and the highest funding level ever authorized for the highway program.
The AISC notes that of the $287 billion the AITA authorizes, some 17 percent would take effect the first year, which would help states address maintenance backlogs to improve safety and congestion. The bill also would allocate more than $6 billion over five years for a new competitive bridge investment grant program, with 50 percent dedicated to bridge projects of $100 million or more. This is crucial for large bridge projects that traditionally struggle to secure adequate funding, the AISC says.
The legislation also would require 15-day notice prior to a Buy American waiver being granted for federal-aid projects.
As in the past, 90 percent of the funding is distributed to states by formula. While this is a positive step forward, the final funding levels ultimately will have to take into account the revenues coming into the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which are currently less than the Senate EPW’s authorization numbers, the AAPA says.
The AAPA says one of its highest priorities is to waive the multimodal caps on state funding and Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grants. The EPW bill increases the multimodal caps from 10 percent to 30 percent for both, which the AAPA says is promising.
A number of provisions in the bill would impact ports:
- The Surface Transportation Block Grant Program would increase eligibility to include rural barge landing, dock, and waterfront infrastructure projects.
- The Nationally Significant Freight Highway (NSFH) projects would raise the multimodal cap to 30 percent, provide additional funds for rural and small projects and provide funds for a pilot project to encourage a more significant nonfederal share. The INFRA title increases funding levels to $5.5 billion over five years.
- The National Highway Freight Program that was established under the FAST Act would increase the maximum number of highway miles a state may designate in rural and urban areas. A maximum of 600 miles could be designated, which could help ports that were not included in the past, AAPA says. The multimodal cap for state funding also increased from 10 percent to 30 percent, a priority for AAPA.
Several environmental grant programs that would be beneficial to ports also are included in the bill:
- The Department of Transportation (DOT) would be authorized to issue grants for charging and fueling stations similar to what is included in the Green Corridors program, which AAPA says it supports.
- A DOT grant program would be established to reduce idling and emissions from port facilities, including port electrification projects. The annual authorization level starts at $60 million and rises to $90 million within five years.
- States would be permitted to use Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program funds for inland waterway and marine highway projects.
- New strategies for inclusion within the national freight strategic plan, including strategies to promote resilience, domestic economic growth, competitiveness, and strategies to reduce local air pollution and water runoff, would be added.
- A supplemental formula and competitive grant program to help states improve the resiliency of transportation infrastructure would be established.
- Reauthorization of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act grants would be extended through 2024. The language also requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be more flexible with diesel alternatives. This section may give ports more flexibility with clean truck programs in smaller areas, the AAPA says.
In addition to the AAPA and AISC, the National Governors Association (NGA), Washington, has voiced its support for the bill.
The NGA writes, “On behalf of the nation’s governors, we applaud the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for taking this first step in advancing a bipartisan five-year reauthorization of federal surface transportation programs. The bill's emphasis on formula funding, safety and resiliency comes at a critical time for states. The looming insolvency of the federal Highway Trust Fund and expiration of federal highway and transit laws and programs on Sept. 30, 2020, creates uncertainty for states and threatens jobs across the country.”
The NGA says it hopes the committee’s action encourages other congressional committees to take action, “creating momentum in Congress to pass a long-term reauthorization that resolves the HTF shortfall without delay.”