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

The House late May 15 voted 209-199 to move legislation that provides multiple federal funding streams to help states and localities offset the loss of transportation-related revenue stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Fourteen Democrats opposed the bill, while Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) provided the GOP’s only support.

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.   

As debate got underway Friday, ARTBA President and CEO Dave Bauer sent a letter to the House leadership supporting the transportation funding in the legislation while calling on Congress to do more as the process moves forward. “Direct financial relief, as has been provided to other modes of transportation, is a substantially more effective solution than allowing states to shift existing federal funds out of construction activities
and into operations,” he wrote.

The American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO) recently asked Congress for nearly $49.95 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 letterto 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 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. 

ARTBA will continue working to ensure the full $49.95 billion request from AASHTO as well as a robust, multi-year surface transportation reauthorization are enacted in the coming weeks and months.