On Tuesday, October 20 the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Bill Shuster (R-PA) and co-sponsor Ranking Member Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR) will introduce The Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015. The 6-year measure is responsible for surface transportation that aims to improve U.S. surface transportation infrastructure. According to the Committee the bill will improve U.S. infrastructure by:
- Providing certainty for state and local governments to undertake large-scale, complex transportation projects,
- Providing flexibility for states to invest in bridge rehabilitation and replacement,
- Eliminating red tape that slows down infrastructure improvements,
- Streamlining the environmental review and permitting process to cut red tape and accelerate project delivery,
- Providing more flexibility and decision-making to states and local governments to allow them to better address their priorities and needs,
- Eliminating and consolidating offices within the Department of Transportation,
- Establishing a National Surface Transportation and Innovative Finance Bureau to provide assistance to help state, local, and private sector partners move transportation projects forward,
- Overhauling federal truck and bus safety grant programs and rulemaking processes, and
- Reforming truck and bus safety programs and eases administrative burdens on small businesses.
The legislation will also refocus national priorities by:
- Facilitating commerce and the movement of goods by establishing a Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects Program,
- Providing flexibility to states to target driver safety grants on their pressing safety needs,
- Consolidating truck and bus safety grant programs and provides state flexibility on safety priorities,
- Promoting private investment in our surface transportation system,
- Promoting the deployment of transportation technologies and congestion management tools that support an efficient and safe surface transportation system for all,
- Updating federal research and transportation standards development to reflect the growth of technology in transportation,
- Encouraging the installation of vehicle-to-infrastructure equipment to reduce congestion and improve safety, and
- Improving truck and bus safety by accelerating the introduction of new transportation technologies.
The bill authorizes $325 billion in baseline funding (an amount supported by Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scoring) and those levels increase annually for inflation. About $261 billion is directed toward highways and $55 billion is provided for transit. The remaining funds are directed to bus and truck safety programs through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTSA). For FY 2016, the bill funds $38.4 billion from the Highway Trust Fund. This amount increases annually to nearly $42.48 billion in FY 2021.
Similar to the previously adopted Senate bill, three of the six years of the authorization are paid for, but the remaining three years will need to be paid for through offsets or revenue obtained through reforms being considered by the House Ways and Means Committee. The House Ways and Means Committee is responsible for finding funding mechanisms to pay for the transportation reauthorization. One focus of the Ways and Means Committee is the federal gas tax. Federal gas taxes are currently 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel fuel. The gas tax has not been increased since 1993 and has been unable to cover transportation program costs since 2008.
The Committee is working under a deadline of October 29 that was established in an earlier adopted measure, H.R. 3236 (Public Law No: 114-41). It may not be plausible that the Committee can work out the details of the long term surface transportation bill. It is widely expected that the Committee will need to adopt another short term extension of the surface transportation reauthorization before passing the 6-year measure.