Senate bill seeks to renew MAP-21

While the bill comes in time before current legislation expires, it is less ambitious than the transportation bill put forward by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee has introduced the MAP-21 reauthorisation bill, which would renew current legislation and fund the country’s federal aid highway programmes at current levels plus inflation through 2020.

However, the bill in its current form only addresses the US’s highway system, while the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) – currently in force and due to expire in September – secures funds for the repair, maintenance and upgrade of the country’s mass transit systems and rail as well. Provisions for these sub-sectors may be added as the bill is passed on to various committees for review.

Another important component missing from the bill is a funding mechanism, which is to be decided when the bill reaches the Senate Finance Committee.

“The legislation builds on the success of the comprehensive reforms and performance-based approach to transportation in […] MAP-21,” the Committee said in a statement.

Aside from maintaining some of the existing provisions – for example, funding for the Transportation Infrastructure and Innovation Act (TIFIA) programme will remain at $1 billion per year from 2015 through 2020 – the bill includes $2 billion annually for a national freight programme.

The programme would enable investment in infrastructure improvements and operational improvements to the US highway system in order to boost the country’s economic competitiveness, reduce congestion and reduce the cost of freight transportation.

The bill also provides for the assessment of financing alternatives, calling for the Secretary of Transportation “to carry out a research and innovation programme to explore alternative transportation revenue mechanisms that preserve a user fee structure to maintain the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund”. Established in 1956 to fund the country’s interstate highway system, the Highway Trust Fund is expected to run out of funds as early as August.

However, the Senate bill is much narrower in size and scope than the Grow America Act Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx introduced last month, which was based on the transportation plan President Barack Obama presented in February as part of his budget for fiscal year 2015.

Aside from allocating $302 billion across all modes of transportation infrastructure, the Grow America Act also loosened restrictions on states, which to date are not allowed to toll interstates. Foxx’s proposal would allow – although not require – states to collect tolls, thus creating a significant revenue source that could be used towards further infrastructure investment.

The Senate bill also makes no mention of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant progamme, to which the Grow America Act allocated $5 billion over a four-year period. Launched in 2009 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the TIGER programme has since provided more than $3.6 billion to 270 projects in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

In 2013, the fifth TIGER round made $474 million available that supported $1.8 billion in overall project investments, while the administration announced another $600 million would be made available in 2014.

The EPW Committee will be meeting today to mark up the MAP-21 reauthorisation bill, which will then be passed on to other committees before it reaches the Senate floor for a vote.

The House of Representatives has not yet introduced its version of a surface transportation bill, but the lower chamber’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is developing one, a spokesperson for Committee chairman and Representative of Pennsylvania Bill Shuster told Infrastructure Investor.