House Passes Major Infrastructure Package
July 1, 2021
Earlier today, the House of Representatives approved a $715 billion surface transportation and water infrastructure bill (HR 3684). The legislation – entitled the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in America) Act – would authorize increased federal spending for federal highway, transit, and passenger rail programs. In addition, HR 3684 would reauthorize and expand Environmental Protection Agency water pollution and drinking water grant and aid programs.
All told, the INVEST in America Act would authorize $547 billion in spending for surface transportation programs, representing a 54 percent boost in funding when compared to current levels of investment. Included in that amount is $334 billion for highway and related research programs, $109 billion for transit, $95 billion for rail, and $11 billion for safety. It should be noted that the measure does not include new revenue proposals to offset its costs. Instead, the legislation would transfer $109 billion from the general fund to the Highway Trust Fund’s highway account, and another $39 billion to the mass transit account.
In contrast to previous long-term surface transportation Acts, HR 3684 places a heavy emphasis on returning transportation assets to a state of good repair rather than adding significant new capacity. The legislation also promotes resiliency to climate change and prioritizes local bridge needs – all key CSAC priorities.
To follow are several surface transportation highlights of the INVEST in America Act.
Emphasis on State-of-Good-Repair and Resilience
HR 3684 would revise the National Highway Performance Program (NHPP) to emphasize state of good repair needs that are identified in transportation asset management plans. States also would need to consider whether an operational improvement or transit project would be more cost-effective than a capacity expansion for single occupancy vehicles. Additionally, the bill emphasizes state of good repair as a program goal for bridge investment and various discretionary grant programs.
With regard to resilience programs, HR 3684 would require metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) and States to adopt strategies to mitigate and reduce climate impacts and assessments of critical transportation assets, evacuation routes, and facilities repeatedly damaged by disasters. The legislation also would establish a Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program, which would receive $6.25 billion for resilience projects identified in State/MPO vulnerability assessments.
Emergency Relief (ER) Program
HR 3684 includes provisions that would provide local transportation agencies with a six-year statutory window to advance federal highway and transit Emergency Relief (ER) projects to the construction obligation stage. The language, which was sought by CSAC and championed by Representative John Garamendi (D-CA), is designed to prevent the federal government from clawing back critically needed emergency transportation funds.
HR 3684 would create a new minimum bridge investment requirement to ensure that states spend no less than 20 percent of their two largest apportioned programs on bridge repair and rehabilitation projects. The bill also would streamline bridge project delivery by removing the prohibition against using multiple sources of federal funding for one bundle of bridge projects and allows the bundling of bridge resiliency projects.
Surface Transportation Program
The House-passed legislation would add Surface Transportation Program (STP) eligibilities for resilience improvements, natural infrastructure, reducing carbon pollution, bus frequency, ridership enhancement projects, and wildlife crossings. The bill also would provide a significant funding increase for locally owned, off-system bridges.
Federal Lands Transportation Program
HR 3684 would significantly increase funding levels for the Federal Lands Transportation Program, providing $555 million annually. Under the legislation, specified allocations would be provided to the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and independent federal agencies.
Discretionary Grant Programs
The INVEST in America Act would authorize a number of discretionary grant programs, including the following:
- Community Transportation Investment Grant Program [$600 million per year] – The program would support local investments to improve safety, state of good repair, accessibility, and environmental quality through infrastructure investments; includes a 25 percent set-aside for projects in rural communities.
- Community Climate Innovation Grants [$250 million annually] – The program would support local investments in innovative strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Metro Performance Program [$1 billion over the life of the bill] – The initiative would provide direct allocations to MPOs to advance locally selected projects.
- Rebuild Rural Bridges Program [$1 billion over the life of the bill] – Grants could be used to improve the safety and state of good repair of bridges in rural communities. DOT could provide funding for a single bridge or a bundle of bridges.
- Reconnecting Neighborhoods Program [$3 billion over the life of the bill] – Grant funds would be directed to economically disadvantaged and underserved communities.
Unlike many of the previous surface transportation bills that have moved through Congress, HR 3684 has little bipartisan support. In fact, only two Republican members of the House voted in favor of the bill. According to GOP leaders, the legislation does not go far enough to streamline the delivery of road and bridge projects and prioritizes Green New Deal policies at the expense of core infrastructure investments.
Across Capitol Hill, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee unanimously approved its version of a five-year highway reauthorization bill in May. Unlike the House legislation, the Senate measure – known as the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act (STRA) of 2021 – has drawn strong bipartisan support. Looking ahead, EPW Committee leaders will be attempting to pare their legislation with as-yet-to-be-written rail and safety titles, as well as a transit title.
In addition to the aforementioned House and Senate bills, President Joe Biden last week announced that he had reached an agreement with a bipartisan group of senators on a wide-ranging infrastructure package. While full details of the legislative framework are not yet known, the deal calls for $559 billion in new spending on “core” infrastructure categories, including roads and bridges, public transit, passenger and freight rail, and broadband. While it remains to be seen whether the full Senate will embrace the bipartisan deal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has made it clear that the House will not take up the Senate’s legislation unless the chamber approves President Biden’s American Families Plan, which would focus investments on child care and education programs.