Federal Transportation Reauthorization

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  • Federal Transportation Reauthorization

  • On June 29, 2012, the United States Senate (Senate) and House of Representatives (House) both approved surface transportation reauthorizing legislation which will fund highway and transit programs for the remainder of Federal Fiscal Year (FFY) 2012 and for two additional fiscal years, until September 30, 2014. The bill, called Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), supersedes prior authorizing legislation, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient, Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) which had been extended nine times from its original expiration date of September 30, 2009. MAP-21 passed both chambers by wide bipartisan margins, with a 373-52 vote in the House and 74‑19 in the Senate. The President signed the bill into law (Public Law 112-141) on July 6, 2012.
    • Funding

      MAP-21 will provide $105 billion to fund federal highway and transit projects, essentially at current levels with a minor annual increase for inflation, through the end of FFY 2014 (September 30, 2014). The legislation will be funded by a combination of existing gas tax revenues flowing into the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), a one-time transfer of $2.4 billion in gas tax funding that previously had been deposited into the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund, and $18.8 billion of general fund revenues over the next ten years available from tax increases affecting pension fund stabilization, life insurance, and Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation premiums. The current federal motor fuel taxes of 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel fuel are extended through September 30, 2016. Truck excise taxes are also extended through September 30, 2017. However, since these taxes will not in themselves be sufficient to fund the program at current levels beyond the end of FFY 2014, a permanent solution to the HTF solvency issue still needs to be addressed in the future. The federal motor fuel tax rates have not been raised since 1993.

      MAP-21 authorizes $39.144 billion in HTF spending for highway programs in FFY 2012, $39.699 billion in FFY 2013, and $40.256 billion in FFY 2014. Each state receives at least a 95 percent return of their HTF funding contribution. HTF funding for the transit formula and bus program is authorized at $8.361 billion in FFY 2012, $8.478 billion in FFY 2013, and $8.595 billion in FFY 2014. New Starts funding from the general fund is at $1.9 billion per year, subject to annual appropriation.

    • Project Acceleration and Program Consolidation

      Although MAP-21 does not provide any significant increase in transportation funding, it is a landmark piece of legislation in that it represents the first concerted effort to accelerate federal surface transportation project delivery. Both the Senate and House versions of the reauthorization bill contained provisions intended to reduce the time and paperwork associated with the delivery of projects. The House provisions trace back to the Breaking Down Barriers Act of 2011 (H.R. 2766) introduced by Gary Miller (R-CA), which put into legislative language the recommendations for accelerating project delivery contained in the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) Breaking Down Barriers report produced in March of 2011.

      MAP-21 consolidates the existing Interstate Maintenance formula program, National Highway System formula program, and the on-system part of the existing Highway Bridge program into a new National Highway Performance Program. The existing Surface Transportation program is modified to incorporate off-system bridges as well as to make eligible projects from several formerly separate programs. 

      There is no new stand-alone freight program in MAP-21. Instead, there is new language to establish a national freight policy, designate a primary freight network, and develop a national freight strategic plan. The bill does include $500 million for funding of Projects of National and Regional Significance in FFY 2013.

      MAP-21 leaves the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) program intact. OCTA successfully argued for the removal of a mandate provision in the Senate version of the bill which would have required that a portion of CMAQ funding be directed to buy clean construction equipment. That provision would have redirected an estimated $45 million annually from the California CMAQ allocation. 

      While MAP-21 does not change the basic federal transit funding structure, the fact that there are no earmarks in the bill has led to some changes in individual transit programs. Traditionally, a bus and bus facilities discretionary program of about $800-900 million per year was earmarked by Congress or distributed at the discretion of the Department of Transportation. MAP-21 reduces the Bus and Bus Facilities program to $422 million, and directs it to be distributed by formula. The balance of the former bus discretionary program funding is added to the former Fixed Guideway Modernization program to create a new State of Good Repair program, at $2.1 billion annually, to be distributed for fixed-guideway and exclusive guideway activities, on a formula based upon the age of the system, revenue vehicle miles, and directional route miles. There is also authorized a $61 billion annual High Intensity Motorbus State of Good Repair formula program, based on vehicle revenue miles and directional route miles for bus transit on high-occupancy vehicle lanes where such service has been in operation for at least seven years. While it is too early to know the exact amounts of funding available to individual recipients under these programs, the formula nature of this funding will likely benefit OCTA. 

      In addition, MAP-21 consolidates the Elderly and Disabled program and the New Freedom program into a single program that will increase the level of resources available for elderly and disabled transportation programs. This should also benefit OCTA with more resources in this area. 

    • New Transit Safety Oversight Authority

      On the issue of transit safety, MAP-21 contains a negotiated compromise between the Senate safety proposal, which mandated federal regulation of transit safety, and the House transit safety proposal, which relied upon stronger regulation by the states. The compromise provision grants authority to the Secretary of Transportation to create a national safety plan for all modes of public transportation, to set minimum safety performance standards for all rolling stock not otherwise regulated, and to establish a national safety certification training program for Federal and State employees, or other designated personnel, who conduct safety audits and examinations of public transportation systems and for employees of public transportation agencies directly responsible for safety oversight. Under this provision, all recipients of federal transit funding are required to establish, and have certified, a comprehensive safety plan based on these set criteria. 

      However, actual safety oversight responsibilities will be carried out by state safety oversight agencies. Each state safety oversight agency is required, among other things, to review, approve, oversee, and enforce implementation of transit agency safety plans, to conduct triennial safety audits, and to provide annual safety status reports to the Federal Transit Administration and others. These activities will be 80 percent funded by the federal government.

      While transit agency safety oversight will be carried out by the state safety oversight entities, the Secretary of Transportation will oversee implementation by the state safety oversight entities and has the authority to audit their activities. In the event that a recipient is found to be noncompliant with safety requirements, the Secretary may withhold Federal funding or require up to 100 percent of Federal funds be used for corrective safety actions. In the event that a state safety oversight agency is found to be noncompliant, the Secretary of Transportation is granted a range of options, including but not limited to issuing directives, requiring more frequent oversight, and/or withholding Federal funds.

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