Congress passed a two-year plan to fund the nation’s transportation projects. The bill, passing the House with a 373 to 52 vote, also cleared the Senate by 74 to 19. Under the agreement, federal transportation funding will continue at roughly $54 billion a year, keeping highway construction projects on track.
“I think everybody realized that tomorrow [Saturday], if we hadn’t acted, thousands of transportation projects across the nation would come to a halt and the potential for millions of people being laid off as opposed to the opposite,” said Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who chairs the House Transportation Committee. “This measure includes historic reforms—cutting red tape and consolidating or eliminating nearly 70 federal programs. [It] will provide a major boost to our economy by putting Americans back to work building our nation’s bridges and highways.”
Although the previous transportation law contained more than 6,300 earmarks, this bill has none, he added.
The measure will fund federal highway, transit and highway safety programs at current funding levels through the end of fiscal year 2014, allowing states to plan and undertake major transportation improvements. The next step is to get the President’s signature. An extension of the last transportation law expires tomorrow, June 30th.
Highlights of the measure’s transportation program reforms include:
• Streamlining the Project Delivery Process;
• Setting Deadlines: For slow-moving projects, the Secretary must set deadlines to make sure all approvals occur within four years, or agencies lose funding through an automatic rescission;
• Setting NEPA Funding Threshold: Mandates a rulemaking to classify projects with a small amount of federal funding ($5 million) as a categorical exclusion;
• Expediting Projects in the Right of Way: Mandates a rulemaking for classifying projects within an existing “operational right of way” as a categorical exclusion;
• Expediting Projects Destroyed by Disaster: Mandates a rulemaking to classify projects being rebuilt after a disaster as a categorical exclusion.
• Requiring a study on which state laws provide the same level of protection as federal law;
• Consolidating and eliminating programs, and focusing gas tax revenues on critical needs:
• Consolidating the number of surface transportation programs by two-thirds;
• Lowering total Transportation Enhancements program funding by $200 million and giving states the flexibility to use 50% of this money on construction projects;
• Giving incentives to states to partner with the private sector to finance and operate transportation projects.
The Keystone XL oil sands pipeline project was dropped from the final agreement. A mandate forcing the Obama administration to approve the pipeline was shelved to facilitate a deal on the measure between the House and Senate.