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U.S. Senate Releases Text for Highway Reauthorization Bill

On May 12, 2014, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee released the text of the MAP-21 Reauthorization Act, its six-year, $265 billion highway bill.  Because of limitations to the Senate EPW Committee's jurisdiction, the bill only authorizes highway programs, not a full surface transportation program; transit, rail, and other provisions will be added by the Senate Banking, Senate Commerce, and Senate Finance Committees at a later date.  The Senate EPW Committee marked up its highway bill on May 15, voting to advance the bill.

For the most part, the MAP-21 Reauthorization Act would continue the current federal transportation program with relatively few policy changes.  Funding would continue at current levels, adjusted for modest inflation, and apportionment formulas would function much like those under MAP-21.  Further, the bill would continue MAP-21's emphasis on accelerated project delivery, performance measurement, and innovative finance, making various changes to continue supporting all three efforts.

Freight Program
Among the most significant changes, the bill would expand upon MAP-21's freight provisions to establish a first-ever core funding program for freight.  Initial funding for this program would begin in FY 2016 at $400 million, growing to $2 billion in FY 2020.  These freight funds would be distributed to states by formula; the details are not yet clear, but it appears states would receive the same percentage of freight funds as they do of overall national highway apportionments.  To be eligible to receive these funds, states would be required to establish freight advisory councils and adopt detailed freight plans.

The bill would also revise the National Freight Network (NFN) established by MAP-21 in several ways.  Both the NFN and one of the NFN's main components, the Primary Freight Network, would be renamed as the National Highway Freight Network (NHFN) and the Primary Highway Freight Network (PHFN).  The PHFN would be revised to include additional designation criteria, and states would be allowed to increase their PHFN mileage by 10 percent to close gaps and make first- and last-mile connections.  Further, the bill would expand the NHFN to include critical urban freight corridors and all National Highway System (NHS) intermodal connectors. 

In contrast to MAP-21, which encouraged investment in the NFN but included no further provisions, the proposed MAP-21 Reauthorization Act would require freight funds to be directed to the NHFN.  The bill also includes a formula to direct a minimum percentage of a state's freight funding to the PHFN.

The bill would revise and slightly rename the Projects of National or Regional Significance (PNRS), providing $400 million annually through FY 2020 and providing a more stable source of funding by moving the program from General Fund authorizations into the Highway Trust Fund.  It would expand the program's eligible applicants to include local governments and various public authorities, and also lower the project cost threshold from $500 million to $350 million.  The maximum grant amount would be set at $50 million, and various provisions would set aside funds for rural areas and limit the total amount of PNRS funds awarded to a state in a given year.

Further, the bill would expand the transparency of the project evaluation and selection process, for example requiring process audits from the Government Accountability Office and the U.S. Department of Transportation's (U.S. DOT) Inspector General.  The MAP-21 Reauthorization Act would also provide for a Congressional veto of the final recommended projects.

American Transportation Awards
The MAP-21 Reauthorization Act would establish a new competitive grant program, the American Transportation Awards, to incentivize state DOTs and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) for "progress, innovation, and efficiency for surface transportation programs." 

More specifically, the American Transportation Awards are meant to promote performance-based programming and accelerated project delivery, along with broader goals of enhanced connectivity and accessibility, improved safety, extended service life for highways and bridges. 

The bill would provide $125 million annually for the award program, beginning in FY 2016 and continuing through FY 2020, and individual grants would be capped at $10 million per recipient.  However, these funds would come out of the General Fund, not the Highway Trust Fund, leaving the American Transportation Awards dependent on annual appropriations.

Other Provisions
The bill contains numerous other provisions, highlights of which include:

  • TAP:  The bill would increase the suballocation of the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) to MPOs from the current 50 percent to 66.67 percent.
  • TIFIA:  The bill would fund the Transportation Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act (TIFIA) program at $750 million annually, increase the amount available to administer the program, and facilitate the eligibility of transit-oriented development projects.  Further, the bill would extend the State Infrastructure Bank program and allow TIFIA loans to capitalize state infrastructure banks.
  • NHPP:  The bill would allow up to 15 percent of a state's National Highway Performance Program (NHPP) funds to be used on non-NHS bridges. 
  • Long-term funding:  The bill would establish a research program and advisory council to study at least three new, user-fee based alternative revenue sources.
  • Performance measures and transparency:  The bill would add an additional performance measure, non-motorized transportation safety, and require U.S. DOT to track the implementation of MAP-21's performance measurement requirements.  Further, it would require U.S. DOT to report on funding levels and projects supported from the Highway Trust Fund.  

Compared to the Obama Administration's proposed GROW AMERICA Act, the MAP-21 Reauthorization Act proposes fewer policy changes and provides significantly less funding for surface transportation.  Nevertheless, it would establish a first-ever freight program, fund the PNRS program, and increase the emphasis on MPOs.  For example, the bill would require states to consult with MPOs in the designation of the PHFN and the Secretary to consult with MPOs in developing the National Freight Strategic Plan. 

While CMAP supports dedicated freight funding and an enhanced role for MPOs, there are a few provisions in the bill that are of concern.  First, the apportionment of freight funding is done by formula and is unrelated to needs or performance.  Second, the bill's language on the designation of critical urban freight corridors lists states, cities, and MPOs as eligible to make such designations, creating some confusion on the "chain of command" for such designations.  Third, the bill would require a certain percentage of a state's freight funding to be spent on the PHFN, potentially disadvantaging improvements to critical, locally-designated urban freight corridors and NHS intermodal connectors. 

The robust policy discussions initiated by the GROW AMERICA Act and MAP-21 Reauthorization Acts are a significant step forward in the reauthorization process.  However, neither proposal has made progress in providing adequate, sustainable funding for the nation's transportation system.  CMAP urges the Administration and Congress to address both the short term and structural funding crises in addition to other policy topics.

CMAP will continue to monitor the progress of the MAP-21 Reauthorization Act in the Senate, the GROW AMERICA Act, and any forthcoming bills in the U.S. House of Representatives.  The agency's adopted reauthorization principles and federal agenda clarify CMAP's position on federal transportation policy.