By Lauren Schapker, vice president of legislative affairs, ARTBA

The House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee June 18 approved in a party-line vote legislation to reauthorize the nation’s surface transportation programs.

The Investing in a New Vision for the Environment & Surface Transportation (INVEST) in America Act would authorize $494 billion over five years, including $309 billion for highways (a 42 percent increase over current levels) and $105 billion (72 percent increase) for the public transit program.

T&I Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said the bill “is exactly the kind of investment we need to create jobs and help our economy recover from the current pandemic.”

The measure emphasizes “state of good repair” and “fix-It-first” approaches, rather than new construction. It creates several new discretionary grant programs and adds programs to address resilience and climate change. 

ARTBA’s government relations team has compiled a comprehensive 10-page analysis that provides more details about key provisions in the 928-page bill.

The bill was drafted without Republican input. In response, the party’s T&I Committee members released their own legislation, the Surface Transportation Advanced through Reform, Technology & Efficient Review (STARTER) Act. The plan proposed a narrower view of surface transportation needs, maintaining existing funding levels, and adding policies to streamline operations and provide states with more flexibility. It was defeated on a party-line vote.

T&I Committee Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-Mo.) lamented the lack of bipartisanship he said had been present for the past five federal surface transportation laws. 

“Ultimately, this bill is a costly, seismic shift in our transportation programs, at an incredibly uncertain time when no one knows whether COVID-19 will alter the way people get around,” Graves said. He also criticized the measure for not being paid for and noted “…to pay for it with the gas tax, we’d have to double it at a time when so many Americans are struggling to make ends meet because of the pandemic.”

Bill Amendments

Nearly 200 amendments were considered during the marathon two-day markup. ARTBA sent a five-page letter to all committee members sharing the industry’s views on 36 of them.  The association’s government affairs team also engaged committee members and staff throughout the deliberations on a wide variety of amendments that would directly impact the construction market, including “Hours of Service, “local hire” preferences, and “Buy America” rules.

Among the notable adopted amendments: 

  • Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio): Repealing “fiscal constraint” requirements, an ARTBA priority, which would allow better long-term planning by state departments of transportation.
  • Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.): Allowing states to conduct their own environmental reviews, as opposed to under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
  • Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.): Prioritizing COVID-19 support for testing and prevention for critical transportation personnel.

The full House is expected to consider the bill the week of June 29.  It will likely be incorporated into a broader Democratic infrastructure package— the “Moving Forward Act,” which includes water, broadband, school construction and other infrastructure investments.