The civil construction industry received a bit of good news this week, as President Barack Obama signed into law the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act on Dec. 4.
The five-year, $305 billion surface transportation reauthorization bill, which passed easily through Congress in one day, is a bipartisan move to improve the nation’s roads, bridges, transit systems, and passenger rail network. It also helps to enhance federal safety programs for highways, public transportation, motor carriers, hazardous materials, and passenger railways.
“After hundreds of Congressional meetings, two bus tours, visits to 43 states, and so much uncertainty – and 36 short term extensions – it has been a long and bumpy ride to a long-term transportation bill,” United States Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said. “It’s not perfect, and there is still more left to do, but it reflects a bipartisan compromise I always knew was possible.”
Bike lanes and bicycle parking, as well as walking trails, will also get increased funding, according to Fortune Magazine.
This is the first law in more than 10 years to provide long-term funding certainty for surface transportation, allowing states and local governments to being critical transportation projects with confidence.
“This program will have a direct impact on our customers by providing stability to the state departments of transportation that has been missing for a number of years,” HCSS President and COO Steve McGough said. “While this program doesn't fix the long-term funding problems with the Highway Trust Fund, it does provide a path forward for the next five years.”
The informational packet on the FAST Act provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation website states that the bill is fully funded to provide needed certainty for state and local governments to plan and undertake long-term, complex projects. It is meant to reform and strengthen surface transportation infrastructure and safety programs and to increase flexibility for state and local governments to better address their unique infrastructure priorities.
The bill will streamline environmental review and project approval processes, reduce bureaucracy, and increase transparency, and it will also close and/or consolidate six U.S. DOT offices with similar functions.
“This legislation will help ensure that Americans can get where they’re going more safely and spend less time sitting in traffic, that raw materials and products can get to their destinations more efficiently, that the cost of goods and services we depend on every day are not needlessly inflated by poor infrastructure and freight bottlenecks, that programs work better for states and local partners, and that American businesses can be more competitive and enabled to create more jobs,” the website states.
The American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) released a comprehensive analysis of the FAST Act, which was released Dec. 1 and passed through both the House of Representatives and Senate Dec. 3.
The bill reauthorizes federal highway and public transportation programs for Fiscal Years 2016 through 2020 and stabilizes the Highway Trust Fund for the same time period.
The FAST Act includes $225.2 billion from the Highway Trust Fund for highway investment, a $20.2 billion increase over five years compared to 2015. Half of that increase will go to support the new National Freight Program and a program of Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects. The rest will provide small annual increases in core highway program funding. The FAST Act’s total core highway investment will be just over 15 percent.
The states will split $207.4 billion for highway and bridge improvements, and $17.87 billion will fund a handful of additional programs run by the federal government for research and development, funding Federal Highway Administration expenses, or financing competitive grants to state and local governments.
Every state will get a 5.1 percent increase in formula funds in 2016, with annual increases of 2.1 to 2.4 percent each year after that, to offset inflation.
“Investment levels will exceed projected inflation by $1.7 Billion over five years and beat projected construction material cost increases by $1 billion over the same period,” the ARTBA analysis noted. “As a result, federal highway investment will see narrow increases in purchasing power through FY 2020, but the FAST Act’s biggest impact on the highway construction market will be the stability it provides states and the private sector.”