Foxx: Transport Act will spur frozen governments into action

In an exclusive interview with Infrastructure Investor, the US Transportation Secretary said the passage of a five-year bill would unlock "attractive opportunities" for private investors.

“We have a bipartisan compromise that looks like a lot of compromises: there’s some good, there’s some not so good and there are important things that got left on the cutting-room floor.” 

US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx expressed his views candidly as he sat down with Infrastructure Investor last month for an exclusive interview – the same day the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act was signed into law

The passage of the FAST Act during his term in office is no small feat, considering that it has taken Congress 10 years and more than 30 short-term extensions to finally agree on a five-year surface transportation bill.

The long-term horizon of the new law alone is worth celebrating in that it allows state and local governments – “heretofore frozen” in terms of planning, Foxx said – to make long-term decisions.

“I think you’re going to see more job creation, more construction activity on projects that will actually move the dial for the American people.”

The new law also provides for the creation of a National Surface Transportation & Innovative Finance Bureau that will – among other things – develop and promote best practices for public-private partnerships (PPPs; P3s), a role the Build America Transportation Investment Centre (BATIC) has been fulfilling since it was launched in September 2014.

“The work we’ve done through that Centre has led Congress to pass a provision that allows us to put that on steroids,” Foxx remarked. “The provision for an innovative financing bureau gives us the Congressionally designated authority to consolidate our credit programmes, which we were not able to do before.”

In addition to consolidating programmes such as the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA), the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) programme and private activity bonds (PABs), the Bureau will also work towards streamlining permitting. “That is something we’re eager to do as long as it can be done the right way and I think we’re set up very well to help more projects find their way to the private sector as attractive investment opportunities,” Foxx noted.

Asked how the Bureau will operate alongside BATIC given the two entities’ overlapping roles, Foxx responded that it remained to be determined whether BATIC would continue to stand alone within the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) or whether it would become part of the Bureau.

“But I think it’s fair to say that the authorities Congress has given us in this space are going to help build more public-private partnerships,” Foxx remarked.

That is the ‘good’ Foxx referred to in the opening statement. To learn more about the ‘not so good’ and what remained on the cutting-room floor as well as Foxx’ journey from City Council member to Mayor of Charlotte and his goals for the future, read the complete interview in our February issue.