U.S. Senate takes first action in approving Federal Transportation Budget

In late July, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee introduced, marked-up, and voted out of committee, S. 2302, America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019 (ATIA).  

The bill is the first step in reauthorizing federal highway and bridge programs since the passage of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act in late 2015. FAST Act funding is set to expire next September. The ATIA bill authorizes $287 billion in funding from the federal Highway Trust Fund, a 27% increase from current funding levels. 90% of the funding will be distributed by formula under the proposal ($259 billion).

The bill also provides for a new competitive grant program to address the backlog of bridges in serious need of repair or replacement. $6 billion will be set aside for this program in the ATIA Act. The bill also addresses issues related to the environmental impact of traffic and congestion. Under the ATIA Act, a new Carbon Reduction Incentive Program would be established to encourage reduced carbon emissions with $100 million in funding earmarked per year. Grants would be made available to state or local governments that demonstrate reduction in transportation emissions.

The bill also creates a congestion relief program, creating competitive grants to states and local governments to develop solutions to congestion relief in highly congested areas. $200 million is earmarked for this program over the 5 year period covered by the bill, with the minimum grant award size is $10 million.

Finally, the bill creates the Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-saving Transportation (PROTECT) program. PROJECT will be a grant program designed to assist states improve the resiliency of transportation infrastructure. $786 million will be given to states through a formula grant program. An additional $200 million per year will be awarded in the form of competitive grants.

Unaddressed by the bill is funding for rail, safety, and transit funding. A separate committee, the Senate Commerce, Banking and Finance Committees, will address these issues and add them to the ATIA Act at a later date.

Provisions in the bill also require a study of an alternative mileage-based user fee, as a way to identify future revenue for the Highway Trust Fund. There is no language in the bill to address increasing revenues for the Highway Trust Fund, which is funded by the federal gas tax. The federal rate of 18.4 cents per gallon for gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon for diesel fuel, was last increased in 1993. The rate is not indexed for inflation, which has increased 73% since it was last adjusted.