Tag Archive for 'FAST Act'

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.

ARTBA Chairman Bob Alger Calls for Permanent Highway Trust Fund Revenue Solution at House Hearing

ARTBA Chairman Bob Alger Calls for Permanent Highway Trust Fund Revenue Solution at House Hearing

Association Also Voices Support for Transit Capital Investment Program

American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) Chairman Bob Alger today called on Congress to increase investment in the transit Capital Investment Program (CIG) but said it is best achieved in the broader context of legislation that provides a permanent revenue solution for the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF).

Alger, chairman of Connecticut-based Lane Construction Corporation, represented the association at a House Highways & Transit Subcommittee Hearing on “Oversight of the Federal Transit Administration’s Implementation of the Capital Investment Grant Program.”

While voicing support for the CIG program, Alger said, “Congress’s chronic failure to fix the Highway Trust Fund program threatens all federal surface transportation programs, including transit projects.”

The next Highway Trust Fund crisis looms shortly after the 2015 FAST Act surface transportation law expires in October 2020, Alger said. He noted Congress and previous administrations had initiated more than $140 billion dollars in General Fund transfers and budget gimmicks to prop up current federal highway and public transit investment levels.

While the CIG program is traditionally supported with general revenue dollars through the annual appropri­ations process, continued uncertainty or disruption to HTF program funding will adversely impact all federal surface transportation programs, including CIG. As an example, during the lead up to the FAST Act, such uncer­tainty about future federal investment and HTF solvency caused seven states in 2015 to delay roughly $1.6 billion in planned transportation projects, ARTBA said.

Alger highlighted three key options that Congress should consider to permanently fix the HTF: 1) raise the federal gasoline and diesel user fee rates; 2) apply a freight-based user fee to heavy trucks; and 3) institute a fee to ensure electric vehicle users also help pay for the system from which they benefit.

In a recent comprehensive 32-page report with legislative recommendations for reauthorization of the FAST Act, ARTBA called on Congress to boost investment in the CIG program beyond the current $2.3 billion annual levels.

Alger’s testimony also addressed the need for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to improve its regulatory and project delivery process so that projects can be completed on time and within budget. According to FTA’s Capital Cost Database, which compiles as-built costs for 54 federally funded transit projects, average costs for delivering these projects increases an average of five percent annually. As a result, a project that costs $100 million in 2019 would cost $163 million to build in 2029, or more than twice the rate of general inflation.

Another key factor that can keep transportation construction projects on schedule is the use of dispute resolution boards. Such entities should include members recommended by the project owner, contractor or industry and should set up quick and efficient timelines so that members can carefully follow its progress, Alger said.

Read Alger’s full written testimony.

Established in 1902, ARTBA is the “consensus voice” of the U.S. transportation design and construction industry in the Nation’s Capital. For more information visit artba.org

ARTBA: House Committees Discuss Infrastructure Package, Surface Transportation Reauthorization

By Dean Franks, senior vice president, congressional relations, ARTBA

The first hearing on reauthorization of the FAST Act law, entitled “Aligning Federal Surface Transportation Policy to Meet 21st Century Needs,” took place March 13 before the House Highways & Transit subcommittee.  It covered a wide range of subjects, including how best to address the Highway Trust Fund revenue shortfall, measures to improve the project delivery process, and the use of new technologies to improve safety and congestion.FAST Act

Seven witnesses tackled questions from committee members ranging from building on the existing partnership between federal, state and local entities to workforce training and development.

The FAST Act is set to expire Sept. 30, 2020.  Reauthorization of the law could come sooner, however, with both the Trump administration and congressional Republicans calling for an updated surface transportation law to be the basis for any infrastructure package this year.

Also on March 13, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin defended the administration’s FY 2020 budget request at a House Ways & Means Committee hearing.  Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) began the infrastructure discussion saying, “At the top of that list is infrastructure. Repairing our aging roads and bridges and investing in a 21st-century infrastructure system is a win for everyone – workers, consumers, businesses, and the economy as a whole.”

Mnuchin defended the administration’s plans for a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package and pledged to work with Congress in a bipartisan manner.  When asked if a motor fuels tax was part of the president’s plans, Mnuchin did not dismiss the idea but also did not endorse the revenue mechanism.

Without an increase in Highway Trust Fund revenues, the next surface transportation law will require an average of $19 billion per year on top of existing user fee revenues just to maintain current levels of spending.  ARTBA staff will continue working on Capitol Hill and with the administration to ensure that any infrastructure package or FAST Act reauthorization includes a permanent, user-fee based revenue fix that will sustain adequate long-term investments in the trust fund.

Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  The President’s most recent Executive Order was in the Federal Register last week: “Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure Projects.”  This is an important directive, for a number of reasons and it deserves a close look, again, for a number of reasons.  First, the EO covers a wide range of projects, public and private: the “physical assets designed to provide or support services to the general public” including “roadways, bridges, railroads, and transit; aviation; ports, including navigational channels; water resources projects; energy production and generation, including from fossil, renewable, nuclear, and hydro sources; electricity transmission; broadband Internet; pipelines; stormwater and sewer infrastructure; drinking water infrastructure.”  Second, and importantly, it links to the FPISC, that’s the “Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council” created by the last federal transportation bill, the FAST Act, in 2015.  The new EO sets hammer dates and accountability.  In 30 days, for example, the Council on Environmental Quality is required to develop “an initial list of actions it will take to enhance and modernize the Federal environmental review and authorization process.”  This EO was signed August 15.  That means CEQ’s report is due around September 15.  That’s warp speed for those pipe-smoking brandy-sniffing philosophers.  Stay tuned.
*  The Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) extended the public comment period for its proposals, initially made last December, regarding changes affecting the use of ACE “Reservoir Projects for Domestic, Municipal & Industrial Water Supply.”  If you drink water, or you know anyone who drinks water or otherwise needs, uses, requires, fishes from, swims in or floats upon water, this is a critical set of policy proposals, addressing and pulling into the spotlight federal water policy issues going back, oh, only about 85 years.  Reservoirs have multiple roles – potable water, irrigation, navigation, transportation, energy, industrial uses, recreation, flood control, fish and wildlife conservation.  As noted, the proposed revisions pull in some ancient stuff. Not surprisingly, the Corps’ text frequently mentions the Secretary of the Interior.  Frequently, though, like it was yesterday, the reference is to Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes, part of President Roosevelt’s cabinet from 1933 to 1946.  My how time flies…

CHICAGO, UNITED STATES – JULY 01: Politico Harold Ickes listening to news of defeat of Vice President Wallace to win renomination at Democratic National Convention. Harry Truman won on the second ballot. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt/Time & Life Pictures

*  Well, it’s not an easy document to get but the Navigation Risk Assessment (NRA) is available for the Hudson River “Champlain Hudson Power Express” project – the proposal to bury a 1000 megawatt transmission cable, lengthwise, under the Hudson River to carry electric power, starting from somewhere in Canada to New York City.  The cable, of course, could present issues for marine transportation on the Hudson because the cable will be covered by cement “blankets” in certain impermeable portions of the riverbed.  The report, paid for by the project sponsors, concludes that “the likelihood of interaction between vessels and the cable is minimal in almost all sections of the Considered Route” (not sure why that’s in caps…). The NRA also includes an “anchor snag manual” advising mariners what to do if their anchor, as it drags along the bottom of the River, say, in a storm or dense fog, accidentally snags the cable.  Whaddyathink – more to come on this?

Tom Ewing
“reply” or
513-379-5526 voice/text

ARTBA Reports: FHWA Proposal Breaks With 2012
Transportation Bill Directives

29d04b3d-4453-4557-a059-9cf73a6a6df3The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) challenged the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) proposal to measure greenhouse gas emissions from new transportation projects.The proposal is part of larger performance measures required under the 2012 “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” (MAP-21) surface transportation reauthorization law. In Aug. 19 comments to the agency, ARTBA charged the proposal “exceeds both the authority of the FHWA and the intent of MAP-21.”

ARTBA warned of this three years ago, when it urged the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) not to jeopardize the broad bipartisan congressional support for MAP-21 by including extraneous issues—such as climate change— in the law’s implementation. Specifically, a 2013 ARTBA task force cautioned:

“Focus on the goals enumerated in the law. The authors of MAP-21 had the opportunity to include a host of external goals such as livability, reduction of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, reduction of reliance on foreign oil, adaptation to the effects of climate change, public health, housing, land-use patterns and air quality in the planning and performance process….the U.S. Department of Transportation should focus on implementing the goals and standards as spelled out in MAP-21.”

In its latest comments, ARTBA noted that neither Congress nor the administration sought emission measurements in the MAP-21 performance management process, and that such proposals were not included in the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation” (FAST) Act reauthorization law passed in December 2015.

ARTBA also raised a variety of concerns about the proposed measurement system. Specifically, it “does not define what exactly it will measure and how it will measure it,” ARTBA stated, and “[i]t is unfair to ask the regulated community to provide specific comments on such an abstract proposal.” Further, the association warned that the proposal could lead to a cumbersome regulatory process that undercuts progress from both MAP-21 and the FAST Act on expediting transportation project delivery and delay transportation improvements.

ARTBA concluded “it is hard to see this proposal as anything other than a maneuver to achieve a policy objective the administration failed to initiate during the MAP-21 and FAST Act deliberations.” The association has asked FHWA to withdraw its proposed measurement system.

Established in 1902 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., ARTBA is the “consensus voice” of the U.S. transportation design and construction industry before Congress, federal agencies, the White House, news media and the general public.