By David Bauer, senior vice president of government relations, ARTBA

House and Senate negotiators have finalized an agreement on a five-year, $286 billion surface transportation program reauthorization bill. The “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act,” or FAST Act, would grow annual federal highway investment by 15.1 percent from the current $40.3 billion to $46.4 billion by FY 2020 and boost core transit program investment by 17.8 percent from $10.7 billion to $12.6 billion in FY 2020. (See table below.) In addition to its increased investment levels, the FAST Act would be the longest duration surface transportation reauthorization bill since enactment of 2005’s five-year reauthorization bill.

The House is expected to act on the measure Dec. 3. It will then move the Senate before heading to the White House for enactment. With the current short-term extension of the programs expiring Dec. 4, another interim measure may be needed to keep federal highway and transit funds flowing to the states until the FAST Act can be enacted.

FAST Act Investment Levels (in billions)
FY 2015 FY 2016 FY 2017 FY 2018 FY 2019 FY 2020
Highway $40.3 $42.4 $43.3 $44.2 $45.3 $46.4
Transit $10.7 $11.8 $12.0 $12.2 $12.4 $12.6

Following a Nov. 18 initial meeting of the “conference committee” charged with reconciling the House- and Senate-passed reauthorization proposals, negotiators were able to complete work on the final package in less than two weeks. The biggest transportation-related sticking point in the discussions was the measure’s duration and investment levels, with House GOP leaders advocating the status quo funding levels in their chamber’s proposal and Senate Republicans and Democrats fighting for at least the modest investment increases in the Senate proposal. The FAST Act’s total highway investment mirrors the Senate plan. Its transit funding is slightly less than the Senate measure, but still above the House levels.

The FAST Act, however, does not provide a permanent solution to the Highway Trust Fund’s structural revenue deficit. The measure uses a variety of one-time cost savings and non-transportation resources to supplement incoming trust fund revenue to support its investment levels over the next five years. As such, the Highway Trust Fund will be facing another revenue shortfall in roughly four years and the current $15 billion per year gap between what current trust fund receipts can support and existing investment level will widen.

The FAST Act includes:

  • A new $1.26 billion per year National Highway Freight Program that will provide funds to all states for need highway-specific freight improvements;
  • A new $900 million per year Nationally Significant Freight & Highway Projects Program that will allow the Secretary of Transportation to make grants to large-scale, multi-modal transportation infrastructure projects;
  • Substantial cuts to the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation credit assistance program from the current level of $1 billion to $275 million in FY 2016 (growing to $300 million in FY 2019 and 2020);
  • Strengthened abilities for the U.S. Department of Transportation to set schedules and deadlines for other agencies participating in environmental reviews as well as limiting the number of alternatives which must be analyzed before a project can move forward;
  • Provisions to help eliminate duplication of reviews in the transportation planning and environmental approval processes in addition to requiring multiple reviews among agencies to be coordinated at the same time as opposed to being done one after the other;
  • Expanded opportunities for both the use of categorical exclusions (CEs – the lowest form of environmental review available) and delegation of environmental reviews to states;
  • Increased transparency on how federal highway funds are used in each state and the benefits delivered from these investments;
  • An expansion of a current exemption to the hours of service rule for drivers of construction vehicles, allowing those operating within a 75-mile radius to restart their work week after 24 hours of rest, rather than 34 hours, which is the standard for other drivers.  The Act also exempts drivers of ready mix concrete delivery vehicles from many requirements of the hours of service rule, provided they meet certain conditions as to radius of operation, on-duty time and drive time.

ARTBA will produce a comprehensive analysis of the FAST Act shortly.