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Editor’s Note: For the first time in a decade, Congress has passed a long-term federal transportation funding bill. President Obama signed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act on Dec. 4, 2015, providing $305 billion in federal funding over five years. The FAST Act includes $10.8 billion in dedicated freight infrastructure funding; $61.1 billion for public transportation systems; and $58.3 billion for the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program, flexible funding that can be used by local governments for bridge and tunnel work on any public roads, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and transit capital projects. Here’s a look at some of the responses to the FAST Act becoming law:
A Bright Year Ahead for Public Transit
After years of non-stop advocacy by APTA members, Congress approved the first long-term public transportation authorization in more than a decade. The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act provides $61.1 billion in FTA [Federal Transit Administration] programs over five years, a nearly 18 percent increase over current funding.
There is a lot to this historic victory—formula funding and a competitive grant program for bus and bus facilities, increased spending for New Starts, State of Good Repair, Small Transit Intensive Cities and additional time and resources to implement PTC [positive train control] equipment. Every policy issue raised by our industry was addressed in some fashion. And it’s the first time that passenger rail provisions have been included in a public transit law, representing a significant shift in the way the federal government views our interconnected, increasingly seamless industry.
It has been said that implementing a victory can be more challenging than winning the victory. Happily, our industry is already prepared to reap the greatest value from the 500-page FAST Act. With the same commitment we displayed during the lengthy legislative process, we will ensure that all segments of public transportation have a voice in how the new law takes effect.
Michael Melaniphy, President & CEO, American Public Transportation Association (APTA), Washington, D.C.
Congress’ FAST Act provides needed funding certainty but fails to move the country forward
When it comes to policy, this bill falls far short of the transformational, outcome-based approach needed to keep our cities and towns prospering as our nation experiences profound shifts in demographics, consumer preferences and technology.
The FAST Act fails to increase transparency and accountability in the process of picking transportation projects; a process that the taxpaying public finds murky, mysterious, and overly political. Though it does slightly increase funding directly to metropolitan areas, it failed to give smaller communities any more control over federal funding. It doesn’t increase the amount of money awarded competitively to the best projects on the merits and makes an enormous cut to the innovative TIFIA low-cost financing program for local projects. And though daily headlines are filled with an increasing number of stories about autonomous vehicles or shared mobility services changing the landscape of our cities, this bill is virtually silent on both counts.
While states and metropolitan regions will enjoy the certainty of funding that they’ve not had in seven or eight years, they’ll be stuck with yesterday’s policies until 2020, and the tab will be passed on to our children. The FAST Act represents a major missed opportunity to do something much better that the country needs and deserves.
James Corless, Director, Transportation for America, Washington, D.C.
FAST Act provides states with funding stability
We’ve been working on this for a long time and this is something that we’ve been trying to achieve ever since I arrived at AASHTO. We’ve now reached that point in time where the states are going to have some stability in funding, but not just stability.
This bill actually offers some growth in funding levels, so this is a good deal for state [Departments of Transportation] DOTs. As with any piece of legislation, it’s not perfect. There certainly are things that we wish could have been different. But on the whole, this is a bill that is going to make state DOTs better able to do the job that they intend to do every day.
When you don’t know the resources that are going to be available, it’s hard to say we’re going to make a long-term commitment to a slate of projects. … I think it really has resulted not only in state DOTs being unable to make those long-term commitments, but also the construction industry is in a position where they’re not investing in new people, in new equipment.
This is going to free up everybody to say, “Let’s begin to think long-term again.”
Frederick “Bud” Wright, Executive Director, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), Washington, D.C.
Congress recognized vital role of federal transportation investments for communities
We asked for and received significant additional funding for local transportation priorities. The FAST Act provides an additional $3.4 billion over the life of the bill for local projects through the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program (STBGP) and increases funding for the Transportation Alternatives Program (which is now a set aside of the STBGP). We also appreciate the growth in funding for the metropolitan planning account.
The FAST Act also makes significant funding available for locally owned bridges by preserving the off-system bridge set-aside and by making bridges that are not on the National Highway System eligible for funding under the National Highway Performance Program (NHPP).
We are also pleased that MPOs over 200,000 in population are eligible for funding under the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects program. We will work to ensure that MPOs of all sizes are eligible under this program in future authorizations. We are disappointed that MPOs are not eligible recipients under the National Highway Freight Program given the importation role many MPOs play in facilitation freight movement, though we do appreciate the role MPOs will play in designating urban freight corridors. The Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program also remains underfunded and the growth in funding in the FAST Act is much slower than the rate of growth in the bill overall.
Leslie Wollack, Executive Director, National Association of Regional Councils (NARC), Washington, D.C.