Transportation bill conference report move toward House, Senate consideration

House conferees have filed the pending transportation bill conference report, which allows the measure to move toward House and Senate consideration.

The measure will fund federal highway, transit and highway safety programs at current funding levels through the end of fiscal year 2014 for states to plan and undertake major transportation improvements, according to  Congressman John L. Mica, chairman, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The measure contains no earmarks and does not increase spending.

With the approval of House and Senate conferees, the conference report to accompany H.R. 4348 can be considered by the full House and Senate. The current extension of transportation funding expires June 30th. (For the text of the conference report, click here.)

“Critical reforms in this legislation consolidate our transportation programs, significantly streamline the bureaucratic project process, encourage private sector participation in building infrastructure, and give states more flexibility to spend limited Highway Trust Fund resources where they are most needed,” Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica said in a written statement.

According to Mica, highlights of the measure 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.

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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 (HTF) 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% 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 more than 6,300 earmarks, this is the first surface transportation bill in decades that does not contain any earmarks.

Improves Safety: The measure includes provisions to strengthen highway and motor carrier safety programs. The legislation consolidates National Highway Traffic Safety Administration incentive grant programs, and increases funding flexibility for states that qualify for safety incentive grants. The measure also improves motor carrier safety in a balanced fashion that does not over-regulate the industry, as the initial Senate proposal would have done.

Excludes Senate Re-Regulation of Railroads: The measure does not include the proposed Senate rail title due to House opposition to increases in funding and authorities for Amtrak, provisions that stifle private sector competition in passenger and commuter rail service, provisions laying the groundwork for re-regulation of the rail industry, and other provisions.

Hazmat Safety: The measure reauthorizes the Department of Transportation’s hazardous materials safety programs, secures reforms to the HazMat special permits and approvals program, and removes burdensome statutory changes. The legislation also bans proposed wetlines regulation until the Government Accountability Office can analyze costs and benefits.