Five-year US highway funding passed into law

The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act became law mere hours before the December 4 expiry of existing authorisation.

President Barack Obama signed the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act into law on Friday after the House of Representatives and Senate brought an end to a decade-long legislative stalemate that saw more than 30 short-term funding patches.

Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who has been hard on the trail pushing for long-term highway funding since his appointment to the top transportation post, lauded congress and the President for taking action. 

“After 36 extensions, hundreds of congressional meetings, two bus tours, visits to 43 states, and so much uncertainty, it has been a long and bumpy ride to a long-term transportation bill,” he said in a statement. “It's not perfect, there's still more left to do, but it reflects a bipartisan compromise I always knew was possible.” 

The FAST Act, a five-year, fully-funded $305 billion reauthorisation of federal highway, transit, highway safety, hazardous materials, and passenger rail programmes was passed by wide margins in both legislative bodies, with 359 in favour and 65 against in the House, and with 83 in favour and 16 against in the Senate. 

From the Highway Trust Fund, $225 billion will be set aside for highways and $60.9 billion for transit. Funding sources for the package include the gas tax and a package of $70 billion in federal budget offsets to be realised over the next 10 years to cover the $15 billion annual funding deficit built into the appropriations scheme. 

The bill's passage in both legislative bodies came in just shy of the December 4 expiry of current funding authorisation, leaving the President only a handful of hours to review and make an executive decision on a reconciled version of the House and Senate measures.

According to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the bill “reforms and strengthens transportation programmes, refocuses national priorities, provides long-term certainty and more flexibility for states and local governments, streamlines project approval processes, and maintains a strong commitment to safety”.

The bill also revives and extends the charter for the US Export-Import Bank through 2019 despite conservative opposition.  

Committee chairman Representative Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania said that the FAST Act is “one of the most important measures this Congress will pass”.

Ranking committee member Peter DeFazio of Ohio noted that the House version of the bill contains several innovative components, including a mechanism that will allow for automatic adjustments and increased infrastructure investment in the future without additional action by Congress.