House and Senate conferees on the transportation reauthorization bill today released the compromise version of the legislation that they have been working on for the past several weeks. The legislation, called Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, provides funding authorization for five years at levels increasing just over 2 percent per year starting in FY 2016 through FY 2020 for the highway program. The bill will likely be voted on in the House on Thursday and possibly in the Senate as early as Friday. While President Obama is expected to sign the bill, a final short term extension may be necessary to allow time for final reviews. Once passed, the bill would be the longest highway authorization since 2005.
The funding levels are a compromise between the Senate passed DRIVE Act and House passed STRR Act levels. The Act does not increase the gas tax or create any new revenue source for the Highway Trust Fund but instead continues the trend of general fund transfers off set with none transportation revenue allowing the Act to be fully funded through the five year period. The Act calls for adjustments in authorized funding levels should Highway Trust Fund revenue increase or decrease beyond the projected annual income amounts.
The legislation provides funding for the TIFIA credit assistance program starting at $275 million in FY 2016 and increasing to $300 million in FY 2020. While this program had been authorized at $1 billion in FY 2015 that level of assistance has not been fully used. A new National Significant Freight and Highway Projects Grant (NSFHP) program is created with funding starting in FY 2016 at $800 million increasing to $1 billion in FY 2020.
The Act creates a new National Highway Freight Program funded at $1.26 billion per year distributed to states by formula for highway freight improvement projects.
The FAST Act converts the Surface Transportation Program (STP) to a block grant program, giving states more flexibility in the use of these funds but increasing the amount going to local governments from 50 percent to 55 percent over the life of the bill.
The Act continues to make improvements in the environmental review and planning process to expedite project delivery, including giving US DOT more authority to set schedules and deadlines. The Act also aligns environmental reviews for historic properties. In addition, a significant change is the creation of a pilot program allowing up to five states to substitute their own environmental laws and regulations for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process if the state’s laws and regulations are at least as stringent as NEPA.
The Act creates a new requirement for states to provide an annual report on all projects over $25 million describing comparing the estimated cost at the beginning of the project with its final cost with an explanation about revisions in scope or other factors impacting project costs or overruns.
The Act expands the current exemption to the hours of service rule for drivers of construction vehicles, allowing those operating within a 75-mile radius to restart the weekly driving limit after 24 hours of rest, rather than 34 hours, which is the standard for other drivers. Ready mix concrete delivery drivers are exempted from logging requirements and 30 minute break requirements if they operate within a 100 mile driving radius.