As Summer fades

By Greg Sitek

It’s hard to believe that Summer 2019 is fading into history. We are one step closer to a new transportation bill as theSenate’s America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act (ATIA) Committee on July 30 unanimously approved the America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act (ATIA), legislation introduced July 29 by EPW Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee Chairman Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Subcommittee Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md).  If enacted, the measure would significantly increase funds for highway and bridge improvements from FY 2021 through FY 2025.

According to reports from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, ARTBA, “The Senate proposal represents the first program reauthorization bill in nearly 15 years that would significantly increase federal investment in highway safety and mobility improvements.

“The committee’s early action is a critical first step in the lengthy legislative process.  It’s also a welcome departure from the series of extensions and years of delay that have plagued the last few surface transportation bills.

“We urge the Senate Commerce, Banking and Finance Committees to take timely action early this fall on their respective policy and financing components of the measure.  Final passage of a bill this year provides a meaningful opportunity for members of Congress and the Trump administration to deliver on the infrastructure investment promise they have been making since the 2016 elections.”

The current FAST Act highway and transit investment law expire Sept. 30, 2020.

There have been reports from Washington that Senate is anxious to have the ATIA passed this year. In some of the articles, I’ve read a target date as early as this September has been suggested. Hopefully, it will get through Congress faster than the FAST Act.

In addition to transportation infrastructure getting attention, the Trump administration recently  announced three regulatory measures with significant impact for highway and heavy construction:

  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration published a request for information asking the regulated community to help clarify various aspects of the crystalline silica rule.
  • The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) released proposed changes to the federal Hours of Service (HOS) rules, which govern the amount of time truck drivers can spend on the road.
  • An overhaul of the Endangered Species Act includes new limits to where the government can block development by declaring land as “critical habitat.”

“These three developments highlight the administration’s continued focus on removing unnecessary regulatory burdens from the project delivery process,” said ARTBA Vice President of Regulatory & Legal Issues Nick Goldstein. “ARTBA will continue to work with federal agencies to keep advancing beneficial regulatory reforms.”

ARTBA also expects in the coming weeks to hear from the U.S. Department of Transportation about the potential repeal of a federal regulation that prohibits state and local governments from using patented or proprietary products on highway and bridge projects that receive federal funding unless those products qualify for limited exceptions. The rule was adopted in 1916 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which then managed the emerging federal-aid highway program.

To address the transportation problems on the local level, there will be higher taxes in some states: The fuel price news will be compounded in a handful of states where excise taxes where hiked just as folks were finalizing their July 4th travel plans.

Drivers in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont and along one major highway in Virginia will pay more for fuel, primarily gasoline, due to tax increases that took effect on July 1, 2019the start of their fiscal years.

Some were already in the works as phased-in incremental fuel tax hikes. Others are new, large bumps in the fuels’ prices. And a few apply to vehicles that run on diesel instead of gasoline. (Dontmesswithtaxes.com)

This fall could prove to be “legislatively interesting.” You will want to keep informed.

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