Update From Washington, D.C.
House Committee Advances Surface Transportation Bill; Biden Administration Unveils Comprehensive Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Request; and Feinstein, Padilla Request Full Funding for the PILT Program
House Committee Advances Surface Transportation Bill
After a marathon markup session, the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee advanced legislation (HR 3684) early this morning that would reauthorize highway, transit, rail and safety programs. The bill – entitled the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in America) Act – would authorize $547 billion in spending over five years, representing a 54 percent boost in funding when compared to current levels of investment.
The measure largely resembles the surface transportation package that was cleared last year by the full House (HR 2) and aligns with many of the infrastructure priorities outlined in President Biden’s American Jobs Plan. As expected, HR 3684 was approved on a mostly party-line vote, with just two Republicans joining Democrats in support of the legislation. According to GOP Committee leaders, the bill 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.
Looking ahead, the full House could vote on the INVEST in America Act later this month. As of this writing, however, Democrats have not identified how the new surface transportation spending would be financed.
To follow are a number of highlights of HR 3684:
Member Designated Projects (earmarks)
- Authorizes $5.7 billion for nearly 1,500 Member-designated highway and transit projects. The full list of earmarked projects can be accessed here.
Emphasis on State-of-Good-Repair
- Revises the National Highway Performance Program (NHPP) to emphasize state of good repair needs identified in transportation asset management plans before constructing new highway capacity. 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.
- Emphasizes state of good repair as program goal for bridge investment and various discretionary grant programs.
Emphasis on Resilience
- Requires metropolitan planning organizations (MPO) 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.
- Establishes a Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program, which would receive $6.25 billion for resilience projects identified in State/MPO vulnerability assessments.
- Requires the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), in consultation with FEMA, to revise existing guidance or issue new guidance regarding the design, construction, maintenance, and repair of evacuation routes.
Emergency Relief (ER) Program
- Includes provisions that would provide local transportation agencies with a six-year statutory window to advance FHWA and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) 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 road and public transportation funds.
- Clarifies that cost-justified resilience improvements are eligible for ER funding and ensures that wildfires are covered under the definition of natural disaster.
- Authorizes a “Pre-Disaster Hazard Mitigation Pilot Program” that would distribute funding in an amount up to five percent of the total amount of funds made available to each eligible entity under the ER program annually. Funds would need to be used to increase the resilience of transportation facilities.
- Creates a new minimum bridge investment requirement that ensures that states spend no less than 20 percent of their two largest apportioned programs on bridge repair and rehabilitation projects. Provides states with flexibility to meet that goal.
- Streamlines 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.
- Establishes program goals that include: improving state of good repair; improving the safety, efficiency, and reliability of bridges; and, reducing the number of bridges in poor condition, or at risk of falling into poor condition, that do not meet current geometric design standards, or that are insufficient to meeting load or traffic requirements.
- Includes projects such as seismic retrofits, corrosion control, systematic preventative maintenance, bridge inspections, bridge resiliency and natural infrastructure, and removal of structurally deficient bridges to improve community connectivity as eligible projects towards the minimum bridge investment requirement.
Surface Transportation Program
- Adds program eligibilities for: resilience improvements, natural infrastructure, reducing carbon pollution, bus frequency, and ridership enhancement projects, and wildlife crossings.
- Increases the off-system bridge set-aside to 20 percent of Surface Transportation Program (STP) funds made available in any area of the state for Fiscal Year 2020 (which would translate into a $1 billion investment annually in off-system bridges). Amounts could be used to meet a state’s minimum bridge investment requirement established under the bill.
- Allows for up to 15 percent of STP funds sub-allocated to rural areas and small cities to be expended on local roads and rural minor collectors (including farm-to-market roads).
- Increases the percentage of STP funds that are sub-allocated
based on population from 55 percent to 60 percent over the life
of the bill.
- Revises the sub-allocation to four population bands: 200,000 and above; 50,000-200,000; 50,000-5,000; and, under 5,000.
Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP)
- Provides funding for TAP as a 10 percent set-aside out of STP and increases the share of program funds that must be sub-allocated to areas of the state based on population (from 50 percent to 66 percent). A state would be allowed to sub-allocate up to 100 percent of its TAP funding if certain conditions are met and upon approval of DOT.
- Increases the recreational trails set-aside in proportion to the increase for TAP and allows a state to use HSIP funds to cover the non-federal cost share of a TAP project.
Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Program
- Codifies elements of the SRTS program. Projects would be eligible for funding under both TAP and the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP).
- Expands eligibility to include high schools.
- Removes the 30 percent non-infrastructure project cap to provide additional flexibility to project sponsors.
- Adds provisions to ensure rural school district outreach.
Complete and Context Sensitive Street Design
- Revises roadway design standards to require consideration of all transportation users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit users, children, older individuals, individuals with disabilities, motorists, and freight vehicles.
- Instructs project sponsors to design in a manner that is tailored to the context of each facility, rather than a “one size fits all” approach.
- State Assumption of Responsibility for Categorical Exclusions (CEs) – Increases the allowable agreement term from three to five years for a state that has assumed responsibility for CEs for at least 10 years.
- Surface Transportation Project Delivery Program – Increases the allowable agreement term from five to 10 years for a state that has assumed program responsibility for at least 10 years.
Discretionary Grant Programs
The T&I Committee’s bill would authorize a number of discretionary grant programs, including the following:
- Community Transportation Investment Grant Program [$600 million per year] – Grant program to support local investments to improve safety, state of good repair, accessibility, and environmental quality through infrastructure investments. Sets aside a minimum of 25 percent of program funds for projects in rural communities and a minimum of 25 percent of funds for projects in communities between 50,000 and 200,000 in population.
- Community Climate Innovation Grants [$250 million annually] – New competitive program to support local investments in innovative strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Metro Performance Program [$1 billion over the life of the bill] – Program would provide direct allocations to MPOs to advance locally-selected projects.
- Gridlock Reduction Grant Program [$500 million over the life of bill] – Grant program to reduce traffic gridlock in large metropolitan areas.
- 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] – Program focused on remediating economically-disadvantaged and underserved communities.
Metropolitan Transportation Planning
- Requires MPOs to consider carbon pollution and emissions reduction, climate change, resilience, and hazard mitigation throughout the planning process.
Federal Lands Transportation Program
- Significantly increases funding levels for the Federal Lands Transportation Program, providing $555 million annually.
- Provides specified allocations for the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and independent federal agencies.
- Allocates an additional $345 million per year out of the HTF for the Federal Lands Access Program.
Biden Administration Unveils Comprehensive Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Request
On May 28, President Biden released his first full budget request to Congress, laying out comprehensive proposals for Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 and the ensuing decade. Unlike the $1.5 trillion “skinny” budget that the White House released in early April, the full budget covers broader spending categories and includes projections for major entitlement programs, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. All told, the administration is proposing $6 trillion in mandatory and discretionary spending for the upcoming fiscal year.
On the discretionary side of the ledger, the administration’s budget request calls for $769 billion in total domestic spending, a nearly 16 percent increase over FY 2021 enacted funding (excluding COVID-19 relief). The request includes $753 billion in funding for defense programs, which represents a much more modest 1.7 percent boost over current spending.
It should be noted that much of the new spending under President Biden’s budget reflects the infrastructure investments proposed in the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan. Under the budget, these new investments would be partially offset by nearly $3.6 trillion in new revenue and over $200 billion of budget cuts and savings. As of this writing, key members of Congress and the administration continue to negotiate the size and scope of potential infrastructure spending in FY 2022 and beyond.
Looking ahead, appropriators in Congress will continue holding hearings with Cabinet officials to review the details of President Biden’s budget request. Although a formal markup schedule has not been released, the House Appropriations Committee is expected to begin considering the 12 annual spending bills later this month. Senate appropriators are likely to mark up their own funding measures in July.
Feinstein, Padilla Request Full Funding for the PILT Program
Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Alex Padilla (D-CA), along with 35 of their colleagues, recently sent a bipartisan letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee urging the panel’s leaders to fully fund the Payments-in-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILT) program in fiscal year 2022. The letter, which can be accessed here, also calls on congressional leaders to enact a long-term solution to fully fund the program going forward. It should be noted that PILT payments to counties help offset losses in tax revenues due to the presence of tax-exempt federal land in their jurisdictions. The funding allows counties to provide essential public services on these lands, including solid waste disposal, law enforcement, search and rescue operations, environmental compliance, firefighting, and other important community services.