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New Developments on Federal Highway and Transit Programs

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar recently unveiled his $450 billion bill to reauthorize federal highway and transit programs and has entitled it the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA). Chairman Oberstar and ranking Republican Member John Mica have announced their goal to pass a new law before the current program expires on September 30, 2009. Chairman Oberstar’s six-year bill provides $337.4 billion for highways, $98.8 billion for mass transit and $12.6 billion for highway and motor carrier safety programs. 

Notably absent from the announcement was a means to pay for the bill and it also lacks support from both the White House and the Senate. Oberstar said that after the June 24th markup in subcommittee he would again reach out to the House Committee on Ways & Means which controls all federal tax programs to find a way to pay for the bill. Ways & Means is scheduled to begin hearings on transportation funding later this month. 
 
Just prior to Oberstar’s announcement, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that the White House would seek an 18-month extension to the current law. Key Senate leaders have now followed with a similar announcement endorsing the 18 month extension. Secretary LaHood is calling for some changes to be made now in transportation planning, including applying cost-benefit standards to new projects and steps to redirect more funding to metropolitan areas. The Obama Administration has been on record as being opposed to increasing the gasoline tax, but in his statement this week Secretary LaHood stopped short of saying a tax increase is off the table and simply noted the Administration is opposed to such an increase during the current recession. Senate leaders have said, however, that any extension will not contain any changes to current programs. 
 
Chairman Oberstar responded to the LaHood announcement by saying the Administration’s proposal was unacceptable and he reiterated his plans to move forward. The Oberstar bill seeks to accomplish the following: 
 
• Redefines the Federal role and restructures Federal surface transportation by consolidating or terminating more than 75 programs; 
 
• Consolidates the majority of highway funding in four, core formula categories designed to bring our highway and bridge systems to a state of good repair; improve highway safety; develop new and improved capacity; and reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality; 
 
• Focuses the majority of transit funding in four core categories to bring urban and rural public transit systems to a state of good repair; provide specific funding to restore transit rail systems; provide mobility and access to transit-dependent individuals; and plan, design, and construct new transit lines and intermodal facilities; 
 
• Directs Federal highway safety investments to specific activities demonstrated to reduce fatalities and injuries on our roads; 
 
• Establishes new initiatives to address the congestion in major metropolitan regions, and target bottlenecks in freight transportation; 
 
• Creates a National Transportation Strategic Plan, based on long-range highway, transit, and rail plans developed by States and metropolitan regions, to develop intermodal connectivity of the nation’s transportation system and identify projects of national significance; 
 
• Reforms the U.S. Department of Transportation to require intermodal planning and decision-making; ensure that projects are planned and completed in a timely manner; and ensure that DOT programs advance the livability of communities; 
 
• Requires States and local governments to establish transportation plans with specific performance standards; measure their progress annually in meeting these standards; and periodically adjust their plans as necessary to achieve specific objectives;
 
• Revises the project delivery process by trying to eliminate duplication in documentation and procedures;
 
• Establishes a new program to finance planning, design, and construction of high-speed rail;
 
• Creates a National Infrastructure Bank to better leverage limited transportation dollars;
 
• Doubles the investment in highway and motor carrier safety to $12.6 billion;
 
• Provides $337.4 billion for highway construction investment, including at least$100 billion for Capital Asset Investment to begin to restore the National Highway System (including the Interstate System) and the nation’s bridges to a state of good repair;
 
• Provides $87.6 billion from the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund and $12.2 billion from the General Fund for public transit investment to restore the nation’s public transit systems to a state of good repair, and provide access and transportation choices to all Americans from large cities to small towns;
 
• Within this $450 billion investment, the Act provides $50 billion for Metropolitan Mobility and Access to address congestion in major metropolitan regions; and $25 billion for Projects of National Significance to prioritizes goods movement and freight mobility projects; and
 
• In addition to this $450 billion investment, the Act provides $50 billion over six years to develop 11 authorized high-speed rail corridors linking major metropolitan regions in the United States. The high-speed rail initiative will provide greater consideration for projects that: encourage intermodal connectivity; produce energy, environmental, and other public benefits; create new jobs; and leverage contributions from state and private sources.
© 2022 Akerman Senterfitt. All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume , Number 211
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About this Author

Kyle Mulhall, Policy Practice Group, Akerman Senterfitt Law Firm

Kyle M. Mulhall is Of Counsel in Akerman Senterfitt's Washington, D.C. office and a member of the Policy Practice Group.   Mr. Mulhall previously worked for Catapult Technology, Ltd. where he was Senior Vice President for Law. Catapult Technology, Ltd. is a government consulting firm that provides human resource, business process, and information technology services to the Federal Government. Prior to joining Catapult, Mr. Mulhall served as Senior Policy Advisor to House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt for transportation, energy, agriculture and environmental...

202-393-6222
Scott Brenner, Government Affairs, Akerman Senterfitt Law firm

Scott Brenner has more than 15 years of experience working on Capitol Hill and in the Executive branch.  Successes include a media campaign pivotal to passing legislation raising the retirement age of airline pilots; a legislative campaign that secured more than $6 million in funds for a technology client; and ensuring a university was a finalist for a $450 million DHS laboratory.

At the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Scott managed the agency’s interactions with all outside stakeholders on topics including CAFE, vehicle safety, and highway...

202-393-6222
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