The County Voice

Thank You, Congress, for the FAST Act

Last week, President Barack Obama signed into law a long-awaited surface transportation reauthorization bill that was approved by overwhelming margins in both the House and Senate. The legislation will provide five years of highway and transit program funding to States and local governments.  The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act represents the first time in a decade that Congress has cleared a long-term highway bill.

The FAST Act addresses a number of the California State Association of Counties’ (CSAC) transportation policy and funding priorities.  Among other things, the bill increases the amount of federal spending for local infrastructure, including the amount of funding available for locally owned bridges.  The legislation also creates an environmental “reciprocity” pilot program, which will allow up to five states to utilize state environmental laws and regulations in lieu of federal laws for key infrastructure projects.  California will be ideally positioned to take advantage of this important new program.

The federal-state environmental reciprocity initiative has been a long-standing transportation priority for CSAC and we are grateful that Congress included this program. California Congressman Jeff Denham in particular helped lead the effort in the House.  Reciprocity will help build on other recent successful streamlining efforts in California. It will allow the State and counties to further demonstrate our ability to improve project delivery while providing the same level of environmental protection.

Overall, the FAST Act authorizes roughly $305 billion for highway, transit, and safety-related programs.  The Act makes more federal-aid highway dollars available to counties for locally owned infrastructure through a revised Surface Transportation Block Grant Program and opens up funding under the National Highway Performance Program for locally owned bridges that are on the federal-aid highway system.  The bill also maintains the local off-system bridge funding set-aside, which was a key component of the previous highway bill (MAP-21).

In addition to Representative Denham, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Grace Napolitano (D-CA) served as key negotiators on the House-Senate conference committee that was charged with developing a final transportation bill.  The California delegation has proven once again that teamwork and key stakeholder involvement can yield positive results for our state and the nation. We are grateful to Senator Boxer, Representatives Denham and Napolitano, and all the California Members who worked tirelessly to advance a new long-term highway bill. This will help California Counties build and maintain our roads and bridges.

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