Bipartisan proposal gives highway funding 34% boost

By Jenny LescohierMay 25, 2021

The Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021 (STRA) would set a new baseline funding level at a historic high of $303.5 billion for Department of Transportation programs for highways, roads, and bridges

U.S. lawmakers have released a bipartisan surface transportation reauthorization bill for consideration by the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee that would increase federal highway investment by 24% in 2022 and 34% over its five-year life.

According to the American Roads & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), federal highway investment would grow by $11.2 billion to $58.3 billion in FY 2022 under legislation unveiled by Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Ranking Republican Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.).

The Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021 (STRA) would set a new baseline funding level at a historic high of $303.5 billion for Department of Transportation programs for highways, roads, and bridges. This marks an increase of more than 34% from the last reauthorization to pass Congress, the FAST Act, in 2015.

The prior authorization for surface transportation programs expired in 2020; Congress passed a one-year extension that will expire on September 30, 2021.

The new measure would distribute 90% of the proposed funds by formula to states. A full breakdown can be found here.

Key provisions of the bill would:

  • Make former President Donald Trump’s “one federal decision” Executive Order into law, including a goal of two years for major project reviews and a 200-page limit for environmental documents;
  • Establish a performance measure for greenhouse gas emissions from transportation projects. Also direct the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency to develop the data to be used in implementing such standards; and
  • Provide dedicated funding to build out electric vehicle charging systems and expand current programs’ eligibility to support climate mitigation activities and emphasize resiliency to natural disasters.

ARTBA said it is notable the STRA does not include any elements of the PRO Act proposal that would make various pro-organized labor changes to current law. The measure also has no “earmarks” for specific projects.

“We must reauthorize the surface transportation bill before its current authorization expires in September: it is a vital foundation for President Biden’s American Jobs Plan,” Carper said.

“Safe and reliable infrastructure is something every American can get behind,” Capito said. “Not only will this comprehensive, bipartisan legislation help us rebuild and repair America’s surface transportation system, but it will also help us build new transportation infrastructure. These critical investments will help to provide economic opportunities now and for future generations.”

The STRA will be considered May 26 by the EPW Committee and the measure is expected to earn overwhelming approval, according to reports. That puts the ball in the court of the other Senate transportation committees to advance the remaining components of a surface transportation reauthorization bill. The Senate Finance Committee has begun deliberations on how to pay for needed transportation infrastructure improvements.

Infrastructure bill 2021

While a new surface transportation proposal is being sliced and diced, lawmakers are also debating where to go with President Joe Biden’s overall infrastructure spending proposal which he recently reduced from $2.3 billion to $1.7 billion. Senator Capito told Reuters that Republicans plan to unveil a new counteroffer on Thursday, May 27.

Her Republican colleague Senator Roger Wicker reportedly said the new plan would be in line with parameters Biden has suggested, following a meeting of the group of Senate Republicans playing a key role in the negotiations.

Senate Republicans have proposed a $568-billion infrastructure plan that the White House has rejected.

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