Obama Signs Five-Year Transportation Bill
President Obama signed on Friday a five-year, $305 billion transportation reauthorization bill that Congress overwhelmingly passed the day before.
The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act is the first long-term transportation bill in 10 years, and the first ever to make freight a priority.
The measure includes $11 billion in new freight funding grants and programs and other top priorities among U.S. seaports.
“The FAST Act is a major achievement,” said Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA). “During the past 18 months, AAPA, its member ports and freight industry partners have worked diligently with federal lawmakers, the Obama Administration and USDOT officials to ensure key freight provisions were included in the final bill.”
The law provides $6.3 billion for the new National Highway Freight Program (NHFP), which for the first time provides dedicated formula funding to states for freight projects, including the 1,400 miles of connections with ports and other intermodal facilities. It also funds $4.5 billion for the Nationally and Significant Freight and Highway Projects program, which includes $500 million for multi-modal freight projects and a 10-percent, $450 million carve-out for projects ranging from $5 million to $100 million.
The bill also reauthorizes the Export-Import Bank. EXIM, which provides financing for U.S. exporter, has been in limbo since July 1, when its previous charter ran out.
Lawmakers also authorized more than $1.4 billion for TIFIA (the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) in the bill, to help finance major infrastructure projects, including bridges, overpasses, tunnels, and rail systems.
The American Public Works Association (APWA) also applauded today the bipartisan passage of transportation bill in Congress. “APWA commends the Senate and House leaders who guided the timely passage of the FAST Act,” said APWA President Brian Usher. “This bill provides the streamlined project approval processes that state and local governments need to provide Americans with the transportation systems necessary for economic prosperity.”
Building America’s Future, a Washington-based interest group also expressed gratification with FAST’s passage, but lamented its modest finding levels.
“We are concerned that the funding levels will not sufficiently dig us out of the hole we we’ve created by neglecting our infrastructure and transportation,” said Marcia Hale, the organization’s president. “The FAST Act includes an increase in funding levels, but it is not nearly enough to address the $94 billion funding gap established by the American Society of Civil Engineers.”
Transportation labor also supported passage of the bill.
“The FAST Act strikes the right balance on many of the important policy issues that were considered in this legislation,” said Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO.
EXIM detractors were frustrated that the transportation bill reauthorized the bank. “There were already serious problems with the highway bill,” said Noah Wall National Director of Grassroots at FreedomWorks, a policy advocacy group, “but its reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank makes this already bad deal for taxpayers even worse. This is blatant pandering to special interests on K Street and another knife in the back of the conservative grassroots.”