A new five-year bill has been unveiled by House Democrats on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a $494 billion measure to boost safety and funding for commuter and freight programs.
This legislation aims to update the FAST Act 2015 highway law that is set to expire in fall of this year. The bill will help enhance highway and transit program fundings and will also offer $4.6 billion for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
It will also work to aid areas facing huge obstacles from the COVID-19 pandemic as well as address issues at hand in relation to climate change. According to the committee’s summary of the bill, the new legislation will require the Department of Transportation to create measures reducing greenhouse gas emissions with specific goals in place for each state to meet. To help states reach these goals, the bill will provide them with $8.35 billion; states with sub-par performances will need to invest 10 percent of their federal surface transportation funds in additional emission-lowering efforts.
“The bulk of our nation’s infrastructure–our roads, bridges, public transit, and rail systems, the things that hundreds of millions of American families and businesses rely on every single day–is not only badly outdated, [but] in may places it’s downright dangerous and holding our economy back,” said Peter DeFazio, committee Chairman. “Yet, for decades, Congress has repeatedly ignored the calls for an overhaul and instead simply poured money into short-term patches.”
These actions have led to an entirely outdated system, DeFazio continued. “We’re still running our economy on an inefficient, 1950s-era system that costs Americans increasingly more time and money while making the transportation sector the nation’s biggest source of carbon pollution.”
$6.25 billion from the bill will be funnelled into resilient infrastructure designed to withstand extreme weather as a result of climate change. States will need to maintain infrastructure vulnerability assessments to properly allocate these investments.
$350 million in annual grants will also pay for electric vehicle charging systems and hydrogen fueling stations.
To help with those struggling from coronavirus effects, the bill will provide $83.1 billion in the 2021 fiscal year to aid local transportation agencies that have dealt with major financial setbacks. The bill will also temporarily end state-federal matching, so all federal funds provided in 2021 will be offered at 100 percent federal share. State and local governments will also be able to utilize $22 billion for operating expenses and employee salaries.
In regards to trucking, $250 million will be allocated toward truck parking facility enhancement as well as for motor carrier safety data display prioritization by the secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.
The bill will also direct the DOT to delay hours-of-service changes until a new comprehensive review of waivers for commercial drivers is in place. In this review, state enforcement agencies would need to provide consultation on analysis of both safety impact and driver impact within the rule’s updates. These findings must also appear in the Federal Register within 18 months, with allowance of public comment and a comprehensive report issued to Congress. All details of the report will need to be displayed on the department’s website.
This hours-of-service rule update takes effect in September, and will bring more flexibility to truck drivers’ schedules, allowing truckers to take necessary breaks with “on-duty, not driving” statuses as opposed to “off-duty” statuses. The rule change also “expands the short-haul exception to 150 air-miles and allows a 14-hour work shift to take place as part of the exception, [and] expands the driving window during adverse driving conditions by up to an additional two hours,” according to the Federal Register.
The bill will provide $319 billion for the Federal Highway Administration’s federal-aid highway program. $5.3 will be provided to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The American Trucking Associations has supported the measure, and ATA’s president, Chris Spear, explained that he believed the bill “contains significant investment in our country’s roads and bridges.” DeFazio agreed, saying the legislation is a “transformational bill that will catapult our country into a new era of how we plan, build, and improve U.S. infrastructure.
American Road and Transportation Builders Association chairman, Steve McGough, echoes these sentiments, saying infrastructure investments will lead to major economic boosts. The association has often been urging Congress to push forward large-scale infrastructure funding measures.
“Without the infrastructure built, maintained, and managed by the nation’s transportation construction industry, virtually all of the major industry sectors that comprise the U.S. economy–and the American jobs they sustain–would not exist or could not efficiently and profitably function,” McGough said.