The U.S. House of Representatives voted 363-64 Nov. 5 in favor of a six-year, $325 billion transportation bill, clearing the way for the House and the Senate to finalize a long-term highway bill before highway spending authority expires Nov. 20.
The Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 (STRRA) calls for spending $261 billion on highways and $55 billion transit and authorizes highway funding for six years.
STRRA now must be conferenced with the Senate’s DRIVE Act, which was passed in July.
Although lawmakers waded through nearly 100 amendments, the biggest battles stemmed over the bill's payfors.
The House had largely accepted the payfors in the Senate’s DRIVE Act, which included sales of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserves. In efforts to shore up funding for the life of the bill, the House also passed an amendment from Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) that would send an extra $40 billion to the Highway Trust Fund by drawing down the Federal Reserve’s capital surplus account. The amendment also scrapped cuts to the Federal Reserve dividend rate and an increase in the fees charged by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
The Senate is likely to accept the House payfors, providing for a fully funded six year bill.
Of importance to truckstops and travel plazas, STRRA would amend the Interstate Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Pilot Program (ISRRPP) to require states to have enabling legislation before a tolling pilot project is approved. Similar to the Senate bill, it also imposes "use it or lose it" rule on state pilot projects, where states have a three-year deadline to obtain tolling approval under the pilot program, after which time the slot could be transferred to another state.
Tolling federal interstates is prohibited under federal law except for three states that hold slots under the ISRRPP pilot program. Missouri, North Carolina and Virginia, which currently hold pilot program slots but have been unable to implement tolls due to strong public opposition, would be given one year to receive approval under the House bill.
Alternatively, USDOT may extend conditional approval by one year if substantial progress is made in their tolling efforts, under the House bill.
NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings urged the House and Senate to work quickly to finalize legislation before current highway spending authority expires, but expressed concern for the bill’s tolling provisions.
“We don’t support tolling on existing interstates. Tolling existing interstates is not a viable method of funding transportation projects,” Mulling said. “Tolls are an inefficient, counter-productive means of raising revenue for the nation's highways that jeopardize the safety of the traveling public. In the interest of building a safer, more efficient infrastructure network, the tolling pilot program ultimately should be repealed in its entirety.”
During the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee markup, Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) proposed an amendment that would have allowed EV charging stations and natural gas refueling infrastructure at highway rest areas. She ultimately withdrew the amendment amid strong opposition from NATSO, the National Association of Convenience Stores, Petroleum Marketers Association of America and the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America.
STRRA withdraws the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's 2011 proposed rule regarding the transportation of gasoline in the external product piping, also known as wetlines, on tank trucks transporting flammable liquids.
The House highway bill also requires the Department of Transportation to commission a study on the accuracy of FMCSA's Compliance, Safety, Accountability Program (CSA) and requires FMCSA to take down its safety scores for trucks and motor carriers until the study is complete.
Lawmakers rejected an amendment to increase truck size and weights and the House Rules Committee declined an amendment that sought to increase the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax by 15 cents.
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