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First Steps Taken on Comprehensive Transportation Bill

 

AITA Feat

 

Roughly every five years, Congress must reauthorize and set spending levels for all federal highway and surface transportation programs. This last happened in 2015 when the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act became law. The FAST Act expires on September 30, 2020, and new authorizing legislation must be in place by then. The Senate has now officially kicked off the process to reauthorize these critical programs.

On July 31, 2019, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) unanimously passed S. 2302, America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act (ATIA). Before this legislation can come to the Senate floor for a vote, the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation must add the rail provisions, which fall under their jurisdiction. The Committee on Banking must add the transit sections and the Finance Committee must come up with “payfors” and offsets. Once these three committees have passed their portions, the final bill will be ready to come before the full Senate for debate, amendments, and final passage.

Across the Capitol, the House of Representatives has not yet made any movements on companion legislation. The process is more straightforward in the House, where the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Committee on Ways and Means, are the only two committees with jurisdiction. The House is expected to pass a very different bill requiring negotiations and a conference between their final bill and the final Senate bill.

This bill is expected to change in the next year as Congress continues this process. However, ATIA has many positives and is an overall good starting place. The spending levels are all increased from the FAST Act, including a potential 27 percent overall increase in highway-related programs and more than $15 billion in new funding over the bill’s five-year period. ATIA also includes all or parts of legislation endorsed by ASLA including the Transportation Alternatives Enhancements Act, the Complete Streets Act, and the Reviving America’s Scenic Byways Act. There are new programs such as PROTECT Grants, which would fund resiliency upgrades for infrastructure to protect them from weather and climate-related events. There is also a pilot program for wildlife crossings and grants to rebuild the most at-risk bridges.

For the first time, Congress has included a climate change section in a transportation bill. This section would authorize $10 billion for five years to cut emissions from vehicles and encourage the building of more resilient roads and bridges. ATIA would create definitions for the terms “natural infrastructure” and “resiliency” in federal code. In addition to these new definitions, multiple sections of this legislation encourage, and in some cases require, the use and promotion of natural infrastructure while pushing for resiliency in the planning and design of infrastructure projects. This is a big step forward from previous surface transportation bills and is in large part thanks to the persistent advocacy from ASLA, our members, and other like-minded groups.

For more information on this bill and other active transportation bills ASLA is advocating for, please check out ASLA Government Affairs’ “Transportation For All” issue briefs.

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