Lawmakers sent the longest surface transportation bill in more than a decade to the President for his signature late Dec. 3 after the Senate voted in favor of the five-year, $305 billion highway bill titled Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act).
The Senate voted 83 to 16 late Dec. 3 to approve the FAST Act after it passed the House by an overwhelming majority.
The FAST Act guarantees funding for highways, transit, passenger rail and bridge programs through 2020. The President has indicated that he will sign the 1,300-page bill, which provides $227 billion for highways and $61 billion for transit. More than $20 billion would come from general funds, subject to annual appropriations.
Although Congress finalized the bill (H. Rept. 114-357) within hours of the expiration of current spending authority, it is unclear when President Obama will sign the FAST Act, which could force lawmakers to pass one more short-term patch.
The final bill boosts highway funding by 15 percent and increases transit funding by 18 percent. It also creates a new multimodal freight policy and a national freight strategic plan.
Lawmakers continued to bicker over the highway bill's pay-fors until the bitter end, including $70 billion in unrelated pay-fors that some called phony gimmicks.
Lawmakers disagreed, for example, over whether the Highway Trust Fund leans too heavily on the Federal Reserve and over a provision that directs the Department of Energy to sell 16 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in 2023 and 25 million barrels annually over the next two years, with a $6.2 billion cap on sales.
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.
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