The House on June 29 approved legislation that will extend federal highway programs through 2014, a low interest rate on student loans for one year, and the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for five years, according to a report from The Hill.
Members voted 373-52 in favor of the bill, which was supported by every voting Democrat, while 52 Republicans opposed it, according to the report.
“This bill will provide a major boost to our economy by putting Americans back to work building our nation’s bridges and highways,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica in a written statement after the vote. Mica led the House conferees in reaching agreement with the Senate on the final transportation policy and reform bill.
After the Senate approves the measure, expected later today, it will go to the President for his signature. An extension of the last transportation law expires tomorrow, June 30th.
Highlights of the measure’s transportation program reforms, according to Mica, include the following:
Streamlining the Project Delivery Process – Completing a major highway project can take 15 years, but only a fraction of that time involves actual construction. While projects navigate the approval process, construction costs escalate.
This measure streamlines the project approval process, adding much needed common sense and efficiency. Specifically, the measure:
- Sets Deadlines: For slow-moving projects, the Secretary must set deadlines to make sure all approvals occur within 4 years, or agencies lose funding through an automatic rescission.
- Sets NEPA Funding Threshold: Mandates a rulemaking to classify projects with a small amount of federal funding ($5 million) as a categorical exclusion.
- Expedites Projects in the Right of Way: Mandates a rulemaking for classifying projects within an existing “operational right of way” as a categorical exclusion.
- Expedites Projects Destroyed by Disaster: Mandates a rulemaking to classify projects being rebuilt after a disaster as a categorical exclusion.
- State Law Standing in for Federal Law: Requires a study on which state laws provide the same level of protection as federal law.
Program Reform & Consolidation – Since the creation of the Highway Trust Fund and the core highway and bridge programs, numerous additional federal programs have been created, diluting the focus of the Trust Fund. Currently there are well over 100 programs. In the last four years, $35 billion in General Fund transfers have been necessary to maintain Highway Trust Fund solvency.
This measure consolidates and eliminates programs, and better focuses limited gas tax revenues on critical needs:
- Consolidates the number of surface transportation programs by two-thirds.
- Eliminates dozens of programs and makes more resources available with flexibility to states and metropolitan areas.
- Lowers total Transportation Enhancements program funding by $200 million and gives states the flexibility to use 50 percent of this money on construction projects.
- Incentivizes, rather than penalizes, states to partner with the private sector to finance and operate transportation projects.
No Earmarks – While the previous surface transportation law contained over 6,300 earmarks, this is the first surface transportation bill in decades that does not contain any earmarks.
Mica continued, “‘Shovel ready’ became a national joke because projects get bogged down for years in the wasteful, bureaucratic project review process. The dramatic reforms in this measure will get projects moving by cutting the red tape that delays projects across the country and drives up construction costs.