For the first time in ten years, Congress is on the verge of passing a long-term transportation package and there are some big wins for local governments within the new deal. The committee of House and Senate negotiators have agreed to the new bill worth approximately $305 billion, entitled the FAST Act (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation), and both Chambers are expected to pass it by the deadline of this Friday, December 4th. The biggest win for local communities, quite simply, is that it is a 5 year arrangement and local leaders will not have to wonder what will happen every six months under more extensions. The League had been advocating first and foremost for a bill that expands beyond the next fiscal year to enable more long-term planning for transportation projects. Specifically, there are many other significant victories being highlighted in the bill, which spans 1300 pages.
The Surface Transportation Program is now the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program and increases the amount allocated to local leaders from 50% to 55% over the length of the bill and gives locals greater flexibility in how the funds are spent.
The Surface Transportation Block Grant Program would now house the Transportation Alternatives Program, and is proposed to be increased from $835 million to $850 million. And the bill gives Metropolitan Planning Organizations additional flexibility in how to spend their funds.
Transit Oriented Development would be eligible for the TIFIA program and the minimum project size threshold would be lowered to $10 million, expanding the program significantly for smaller projects.
The bill is being paid for by a series of sources, not including any changes to the federal gas tax. Some of the sources include the Federal Reserve surplus account, selling a portion of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and cutting the dividend the Federal Reserve pays to some member banks.
We will notify you as soon as the bill has cleared both the House and Senate later this week. We’ll know more details of the bill in the coming days, but the changes identified so far show significant improvement for local governments and their support for transportation infrastructure by the federal government. We’re pleased after all these years to be on the verge of such a victory!
Summer Minnick is the Director of External Relations and Federal Affairs. She can be reached at 517-908-0301 or [email protected].