The Chairs of three U.S. House Committees on Jan. 29 officially unveiled a proposal for a $760 billion, five-year infrastructure plan that includes $319 billion for “transformative highway investments.
The framework put forth by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ), and Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal (D-MA) calls for revamping existing highway formula programs to “prioritize investments” and “improve program implementation” to maintain and improve existing infrastructure and bring it into a state of good repair.
Among its broad goals, the proposal, which is a framework rather than official legislative language, also calls for reducing the carbon footprint from the transportation sector and dramatically increasing the availability of electric vehicle charging stations and other alternative fueling options for electric and zero-emissions vehicles.
Of importance to NATSO members, the House plan does not call for lifting federal prohibitions on tolling existing interstates or commercializing rest areas to fund infrastructure projects. The framework instead calls for instituting tighter standards around tolling and congestion pricing to “tackle congestion equitably.”
Also of note, the House proposal calls for opportunities and funding for states, MPOs, and local governments to build fueling infrastructure for zero pollution hydrogen and electric vehicles along designated highway corridors.
The House proposal does not address the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund and does not call for a specific funding mechanism to pay for a long-term infrastructure package. House T&I Committee Chairman DeFazio previously has expressed support for increasing the motor fuels taxes, however, financing a large infrastructure package remains the work of tax and finance committees.
Instead, today's proposal calls for testing new user transportation fees that would ensure “the future viability and equity” of surface transportation fees -- specifically, a multi-year national pilot program to test a vehicle-miles traveled fee.
The release of the House infrastructure framework coincides with a hearing scheduled today by the House Ways and Means Committee on funding infrastructure. NATSO submitted a statement for the record in advance of that hearing reiterating the high-level principles that should guide infrastructure funding.
NATSO thinks that infrastructure funding should be: user-based; simple, efficient and inexpensive to collect; difficult for taxpayers to evade; energy-source neutral; transparent; and dedicated to surface transportation for the benefit of the payer. NATSO also thinks that revenue generated by any funding solution should contain automatic adjustments to mitigate trends that decrease the revenue it generates.
Although the House infrastructure framework is a significant step forward in advancing any major infrastructure legislation, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee still must put forth official legislative language, the timing of which remains unclear. Other committees will then need to add Titles on financing.
In the Senate, the Environment and Public Works Committee advanced its version of a highway bill in July 2019, “America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019.” The Senate Finance Committee, which is responsible for finding a way to pay for that measure, still needs to add its Title before the bill can go before the full Senate. Additional committees also will need to add sections on transit and safety, among others.
Current surface transportation law is set to expire in September 2020.
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