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Update--Status of Federal Transportation Reauthorization
The federal transportation reauthorization effort has progressed this month. On July 7, 2011, U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) and leaders released a new proposal for a $230 billion six-year program. This amount reflects anticipated Highway Trust Fund revenues over the next six years, which represents about a 35 percent cut to current funding levels. Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee under Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) held a hearing on July 21 on its own reauthorization bill. Called Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21, the bill proposes a two-year extension maintaining current funding levels.
The House bill emphasizes reducing regulatory burdens, promoting innovative finance such as State Infrastructure Banks, maintaining the programmatic integrity of transportation trust funds, and delegation of spending decisions to states. Most revenues are distributed by formula, and states are given flexibility to make spending decisions subject to unspecified performance criteria. Additionally, the House proposal allows tolling on new interstate lanes, as well as greater flexibility to allow tolling on non-interstate highways. The House also proposes allowing private transit operations, expanding transit in suburban and rural areas, and expanding special needs transit service.
The Senate proposal creates a National Freight Program, while the House proposal addresses goods movement through the rail and maritime titles. Additionally, the Senate proposal combines federal efforts into four other core programs: National Highway Performance, Transportation Mobility, Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement, and Highway Safety Improvement. The Senate proposal also reforms state and metropolitan planning processes to incorporate a more "comprehensive performance-based approach" to decision-making.
Although the two proposals vary dramatically in terms of funding levels and time horizon, they do share some common ground. Both the Senate and House bills focus on consolidating federal programs, accelerated project delivery, increasing funding to the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA, to $1 billion annually), and incorporating more performance-based criteria in transportation decision-making.
From the information currently available, the prognosis for our region is unclear. On a positive note, both proposals emphasize innovative financing, as recommended in GO TO 2040, and streamlining federal programs. These reforms may suggest new and flexible funding sources for CMAP-recommended projects. Both support faster project delivery, which could benefit the implementation of GO TO 2040, and a more strategic and performance-driven investment program, as CMAP recommends.
However, the funding cuts in the House proposal potentially jeopardize the region's ability to maintain, modernize, and enhance its transportation system. And the Senate proposal represents a short time frame, which may continue the recent instability in federal funding. Although both proposals support innovative finance, neither takes the steps to raise the gas tax or discusses long-term funding solutions, as recommended in GO TO 2040.
Currently, both bills are short on details. In fact, the bills themselves are not yet publicly available. Neither proposal defines the "performance-based" standards, nor do they fully list which programs are to be eliminated or consolidated. Details are still emerging, and we'll keep you informed as the process continues.