The U.S. House of Representatives today approved a major transportation bill by a vote of 373 to 52. "This measure includes historic reforms -- cutting red tape and consolidating or eliminating nearly 70 federal programs," said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica. The unprecedented reforms in the transportation bill will streamline the lengthy project approval process, consolidate or eliminate federal programs, and ensure that states have more flexibility to direct limited resources to high-priority needs.
"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. Mica led the House conferees in reaching agreement with the Senate on the final transportation policy and reform bill.
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.
"This measure also shrinks the federal bureaucracy. Two-thirds of federal transportation programs are consolidated or eliminated, and states will be given more authority to focus on their most pressing needs and determine how to spend their resources. States will be given the opportunity to opt out of burdensome requirements to spend money on planting roadside flowers if they decide they need to invest more gas tax funds on improving roads and bridges.
"Although the previous transportation law contained over 6,300 earmarks, this bill has none. This legislation is paid for and does not deficit-spend. This is a responsible bill with real reforms that will boost employment in the particularly hard-hit construction industry, and ensure that hard-earned taxpayer dollars are more effectively spent in improving America's infrastructure," Mica said.
"The average highway project in the United States takes 15 years from concept to completion, far more than any other developed Nation," said U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan, Jr. (R-TN), Chairman of the House Highways and Transit Subcommittee. "We have got to cut the red tape and speed up these projects. This bill goes further in streamlining environmental rules and regulations than any previous highway bill."
The bipartisan, bicameral conference report to H.R. 4348 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.
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 include:
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% 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.