The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has unanimously approved a five-year highway bill—an eagerly awaited initial piece of what would be a multi-part surface transportation package. Of the $287 billion total highway authorizations in the bill, $259 billion, or 90%, would be distributed to states by formula.
The bipartisan bill’s authors, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), said the measure’s total dollars would make it the largest highway bill ever and 27% more than the highway portion of the current five-year legislation—the 2015 FAST Act, which expires in October of next year.
Sen. Barrasso explained that the bill, known as America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act, “cuts Washington red tape, so road construction can get done faster, better, cheaper and smarter. It will help create jobs and support our strong, growing, and healthy economy. Infrastructure is critical to our country and we should responsibly pay for this legislation.”
Sen. Carper pointed to the legislation’s inclusion of climate-centric provisions to “invest $10 billion in policies and innovative projects aimed at reducing emissions and enhancing resilience.” That part of the bill includes $4.9 billion over five years for features that would make highways and bridges better able to withstand hurricanes, floods and wildfires. Of the $4.9 billion, $3.9 billion would be divided among states by formula.
The legislation also authorizes more than $6 billion over five years for a competitive program designed to focus on rehabilitating deficient bridges. Every state with a well-justified proposal will receive funding to improve the condition and safety of its aging bridges.
Construction and transportation groups, for which a multi-year surface transportation bill is the leading legislative priority, praised the new bill as a solid start towards an eventual package:
Associated General Contractors of America’s chief executive officer, Stephen Sandherr, said the Barrasso-Carper proposal “is a critical first step” and said the total authorization level is “a substantial, and much needed, boost in funding to repair clogged highways and aging bridges.”
Industry officials also were pleased that the bill has a multi-year span:
American Council of Engineering Companies president and CEO, Linda Bauer Darr, said the bill would “ensure five years of stable federal funding and growth in core infrastructure programs.”
American Road & Transportation Builders Association CEO, Dave Bauer, said that the multi-year measure also is “a welcome departure from the series of extensions and years of delay that have plagued the last few surface transportation bills.”
State departments of transportation strongly support the bill’s formula distribution:
American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials executive director, Jim Tymon, said that funding mechanism “ensures flexibility to best meet each state’s unique highway investment needs.”
In a provision that Barrasso has long been advocating, the bill also aims to speed up highway and bridge project regulatory reviews, codifying the ‘One Federal Decision’ executive order. Among other things, that “streamlining” section would set a goal for completing projects’ environmental reviews within two years, and call for one environmental statement and record of decision per project, which all relevant reviewing federal agencies would be required to sign.
A new poll from Heritage Action for America serves as the latest reminder that voters generally back infrastructure investment. In it, 86% of respondents said they support “an infrastructure program that spends over 2 trillion dollars to fix roads, highways and bridges.”