The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unveiled a five-year, $303.5 billion Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021 plan on May 22, after President Biden reduced the size of his $1.7 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan by about a quarter in a bid to advance negotiations with Republicans.
STRA marks a 34 percent increase over current funding levels, with 90 percent of funds allocated to states through formula funding. It allocates $15.6 billion for the Highway Safety Improvement Program over five years.
NATSO continues to analyze details of the plan and its implications for NATSO members.
Of importance to NATSO members, STRA would not lift the federal prohibitions on tolling existing interstates or commercializing rest areas to fund infrastructure projects.
The proposal would, however, establish a congestion relief program to provide grants to states, local governments, and metropolitan planning organizations for projects in large urbanized areas to advance congestion relief, including high occupancy toll lanes.
The bill also would fund a national vehicle miles pilot to test a user-based alternative funding mechanism, including among differing income groups and rural and urban areas. The program also must test solutions to ensure the privacy and security of data collected for the purpose of implementing a user-based alternative revenue mechanism.
Notably, the plan authorizes $500 million a year on alternative fueling and charging, with funds coming out of the Highway Trust Fund. This includes establishing a grant program for alternative fuel corridors to deploy infrastructure for electric vehicle charging, hydrogen fueling, propane fueling, and natural gas fueling along designated alternative fuel corridors.
The reauthorization act would require eligible states or political subdivisions, metropolitan planning organization, and local governments to contract with a private entity to acquire and install publicly accessible alternative fuel vehicle charging and fueling infrastructure.
NATSO supports investments in alternative fuels, including renewable diesel, biodiesel, natural gas, ethanol and electric vehicle charging. NATSO thinks that additional guardrails should be put into place with regard to electric vehicle charging, to ensure that utilities are not permitted to access ratepayer funds to own and operate EV charging stations while also receiving federal funds for their installation.
Many states allow utilities to charge all of their customers for the utility's investments in EV charging stations through their customers' monthly electric utility bills. NATSO thinks that individuals should not be forced to underwrite investments that the private sector is both willing and better equipped to make.
The EPW Committee is scheduled to mark up STRA on Wednesday, May 26.
EPW is one of four authorizing committees in the Senate. It is unclear when other committees of jurisdiction will mark up their Titles of the bill. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is expected to mark up its version of an infrastructure bill in June.
EPW Committee Ranking Member Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said May 21 that Democrats and Republicans remain far apart on negotiations.
The Washington Post reported on May 23 that Democrats view the bill as the foundation to something bigger, but Republicans view it as “the plan.”
“The bill would represent a significant boost to transportation spending but is not the kind of “generational investment” the administration has in mind. Democrats see it as laying a foundation on which President Biden can build,” the Post wrote. “For Republicans, though, it would deliver all of the funding they are seeking.”
Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), the committee’s chairman, said the bill was a “vital foundation” for the president’s $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan.
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