The details: T&I Committee approves American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act

The Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee today [Feb. 3] approved the American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act jobs legislation to reauthorize and reform federal surface transportation programs and rebuild the nation’s roads, bridges and infrastructure.

The current nation is currently operating under an extension of Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEALU), the surface transportation bill enacted by George W. Bush on Aug. 10, 2005. The bill originally expired on Sept. 30, 2009, has undergone a series of extensions since then. The latest extension is set to expire on March 31, 2012.

On Feb. 1, the T&I Committee began consideration of the American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act, a bill introduced in the House by Transportation Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-Fla.) and Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairman John J. Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.). The legislation was approved early this morning.

“No other bill this Congress will create jobs, lower energy costs or improve our deteriorating infrastructure as effectively as this legislation,” Mica said in a written press statement. “With millions out of work, particularly in the construction industry, Americans deserve a long-term transportation, energy and jobs bill from Congress.

“The American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act will be the most significant reform of transportation programs in decades,” Mica continued in the written statement. “This bill will cut red tape, reduce the federal bureaucracy, move major infrastructure projects forward, attract more private sector participation, and give states the flexibility they need to address their most critical transportation needs.

A year ago, the Committee began holding bipartisan hearings and meetings around the country to gather input from state and local officials for a bill to reform and improve federal transportation programs, Mica said.

“Since then, we have worked to incorporate as many ideas from our Republican and Democratic colleagues as possible,” he said. “With today’s extensive and open debate, we have adopted many amendments, including 21 Democratic amendments, and we will continue to work with our colleagues as this bill moves forward.”

He likens this step forward to the progress that has been made on a long-term Federal Aviation Aviation (FAA) bill. “Some thought our committee would never complete a long-term FAA bill, but we have reached a bipartisan bicameral agreement on that critical measure,” Mica noted. “The President also recently signed a bipartisan pipeline safety bill that we sent him. We can also find common ground on this essential legislation to move our country and economy forward.”

Duncan points out that job creation is the No. 1 priority for voters across the United States, and he says this bill gives state governments a long-term funding stream that will put Americans back to work by improving our Nation’s highway and transit systems.

“In the last Congress, the President and Democratic leaders were unable to bring their reauthorization proposal to the floor,” Duncan said in the written statement from Mica’s office. “Their proposals for funding the bill were unrealistic.  I can assure you that this bill is realistic and will ensure that the Highway Trust Fund does not go broke.”

The American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act authorizes approximately $260 billion over five years to fund federal highway, transit and safety programs, consistent with current funding levels. This will provide long-term stability for states to undertake major infrastructure projects. The bill also includes provisions to improve programs for freight and passenger rail transportation, and calls for funds collected for maintaining the nation’s harbors to be invested for that purpose – not redirected for other unrelated government expenditures.

In addition, this legislation contains no earmarks. The last surface transportation law approved by Congress in 2005 contained over 6,300 earmarks.

The House is expected to consider H.R. 7 later this month.

According to Mica’s office, The American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act improves transportation programs in a number of ways, including the following:

Program Reform & Consolidation

Currently, there are more than 100 federal surface transportation programs, many of which were created during the last 50 years to expand the scope of the original programmatic goals. Many of these programs are duplicative or do not serve a national interest, according to Mica.

The American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act reforms surface transportation programs by consolidating or eliminating about 70 programs that are duplicative or do not serve a federal purpose.

Increased State Flexibility

The American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act eliminates a number of mandates that prevent states from being able to fund their most critical infrastructure needs.  The bill ensures that states will no longer be required to spend highway funding on non-highway activities, although they will be permitted to fund such activities if deemed to be priorities. The bill also delegates more project approval authority to states.

Cutting Red Tape & Streamlining Project Delivery

Due to the federal bureaucracy and red tape, the project approval and permitting process creates needless infrastructure delays and cost increases. According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), highway projects can take up to 15 years to complete, and a lengthy project approval process accounts for a majority of these delays.

The American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act streamlines and condenses the project review process by cutting bureaucratic red tape, allowing federal agencies to review transportation projects concurrently, and setting hard deadlines for federal agencies to approve projects, in addition to providing states with more approval authority.

More information from the markup of H.R.7 can be accessed here, including information regarding amendments.

(For a PDF of the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, click here.)

(For the 14-page summary of the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act in a downloadable PDF format, click here.)

Click here for the report, Federal Surface Transportation Reauthorization:Moving Beyond SAFETEA-LU, by Joung H. Lee, associate director for finance and business development, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and deputy director, AASHTO Center for Excellence in Project Finance.