Congressional negotiators agreed to a five-year, $305 billion highway bill Dec. 1, clearing one of the last hurdles in their push to finalize a long-term highway bill before current highway spending authority expires at the end of this week."Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act” (FAST Act), which will fund the majority of infrastructure projects for the next five years, is expected to pass both chambers this week. The House could consider the 1,300-page proposal as early as tomorrow. The Senate plans to pass the bill by the end of the week. Lawmakers anticipate that President Obama would sign the measure into law the week of Dec. 7, which would require another short-term extension to ensure that highway funding continues uninterrupted.
The FAST Act would provide $227 billion for highways and $61 billion for transit. More than $20 billion would come from general funds, subject to annual appropriations.The agreement ends weeks of haggling over the bill’s pay-fors and a number of safety-related issues.
Of importance to truckstops and travel plazas, the FAST Act did not expand the number of states eligible to impose new tolls under the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program (ISRRPP).The bill language regarding tolling draws heavily from the House STRR Act, which was favored by NATSO, and requires that states demonstrate authority to enact the pilot program before a program slot is granted. The Senate receded language from its DRIVE Act that would have allowed funds collected from toll roads to be diverted to other projects and decreased public input on proposed tolling projects through the ISRRPP.
Unfortunately, the FAST Act adds a three-year expiration period to the three tolling pilot program slots, with the possibility of a one-year extension. It also gives applicants one year to complete their applications, which will open the door to additional tolling applications in the future.
The legislation would create a multimodal freight policy and a national freight strategic plan to help states with freight transportation planning. This includes the establishment of a grant program to guarantee funds for large freight projects.
The measure also takes steps to reform of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) safety monitoring system and requires the removal of certain safety performance scores for motor carriers from public view until regulators modify the scoring program.
Additionally, the legislation directs the Department of Energy to sell 16 million barrels of oil fromt he Strategic Petroleum Reserve in 2023 and 25 million barrels annually over the next two years, but there will be a $6.2 billion cap on sales.
Passage of the FAST Act would mark the first time that Congress has delivered a long-term, fully funded highway bill to the White House since George W. Bush was President.
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