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

Nine House Democratic committee chairs May 12 introduced legislation that would provide two federal funding streams to help states offset the loss of transportation-related revenue stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Health & Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, the latest proposal to aid the nation’s economic recovery, includes $15 billion for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to distribute to the states via current FAST Act formula—money that could be used for construction and operational and administrative expenses incurred by state departments of transportation (DOTs).  The bill includes an additional $500 billion in direct relief to the states, which governors could also decide to use to help shore up their transportation programs.

The American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO) recently asked Congress for nearly $50 billion in assistance to offset the loss of gas tax and other transportation-related revenues due to the sharp reduction in driving related to stay-at-home orders.  ARTBA has expressed support for AASHTO’s request on several occasions, including in a letter to congressional leaders and during an April 29 U.S. DOT “listening session” hosted by Secretary Elaine Chao.

In a May 11 letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), 137 House members, led by Representatives Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) and Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio.), offered a bipartisan endorsement for AASHTO’s request. ARTBA chapters and members helped generate signatories from their respective congressional delegations.

The HEROES Act’s other transportation related provisions would:

  • Allow all remaining FY 2020 federal-aid highway projects to receive 100 percent federal share of funding, effectively waving the required state match, and remaining funds could also be used for operational and administrative expenses.
  • Cancel the annual ‘August redistribution’ of any unobligated funds by states or the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), effectively giving states an additional year to obligate their FY 2020 funds.
  • Deliver $15.75 billion for public transportation programs, $11 billion of which would be directed to metropolitan areas with a population of at least three million people.
  • Transfer from the General Fund to the Airport and Airways Trust Fund of a yet-to-be-determined amount to offset the decline in federal aviation tax receipts.

The measure includes an additional $915 billion in direct appropriations to, “mitigate, cover costs or replace foregone revenues not projected on Jan. 31, stemming from the public health emergency, or its negative economic impacts, with respect to the Coronavirus Disease (COVID–19).” It includes:

  • $500 billion for states;
  • $187.5 billion for counties;
  • $187.5 billion for metropolitan areas;
  • $20 billion for Puerto Rico; and
  • $20 billion for tribal governments.

The HEROES Act could receive a vote by the full House as early as Friday, May 15, and is expected to pass along party lines.  It faces an uncertain future in the Senate given recent comments from the chamber’s majority Republican leaders who have expressed their desire to fully assess the impacts of the previous COVID-19-related laws before advancing additional legislation.