House Transportation Committee Approves Surface Bill After Long, Partisan Markup

Posted on: February 6th, 2012 by NADO Admin

On January 31, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, led by Chairman John Mica (R-FL) and Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Chairman John Duncan (R-TN) unveiled the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act” (H.R. 7).  On February 2, the committee approved the five-year, $262.9 billion measure by a 29 to 24 vote after nearly 18 hours of debate and amendments.

Overall, the legislation reforms and reauthorizes the SAFETEA-LU surface transportation law through FY2016.  The measure would average approximately $52.6 billion each year over the FY2012-2016 period.  The $286.4 billion SAFETEA-LU law averaged about $47.7 billion per year during the FY2004-2009 timeframe for highway, transit and highway safety programs.  By comparison, the Senate’s MAP-21 bill (S. 1813) is a two-year, $109 billion package (FY2012-2013).

The House Republican plan focuses on the major themes of clearly defining the federal role in transportation, advancing program consolidation and reform, and streamlining the project delivery process.  It also encourages more private sector participation in building infrastructure, boosting resources for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation (TIFA) program, and providing incentives for states to build upon existing State Infrastructure Bank programs.  The bill contains no project earmarks, whereas the previous transportation law included more than 6,000 earmarks.

Within the statewide planning section (Title IV-Transportation Planning)(Chapter 52-Transportation Planning, Sec. 5204), the House bill includes NADO-championed language to give federal recognition for Regional Transportation Planning Organizations (RTPOs) for areas outside of MPOs and to require state DOTs to “cooperate” with rural local elected and appointed officials (including through RTPOs), rather than simply “consult.”  The House plan essentially incorporates the RTPO and rural planning language from the legislation (H.R. 1565) introduced by Reps. Richard Hanna (R-NY) and Tim Walz (D-MN) and supported by Chairman Duncan (R-TN).

Under the metropolitan planning section, the House bill would allow the continuation of all existing MPOs (includes keeping the current TMA threshold at 200,000 and above), yet would set a new urbanized area population threshold of 100,000 to be designated as an MPO in the future.  In addition, the House inserted a new provision that would permit the Governor of a state to modify an MPO TIP when the MPO and the State fail to agree on programming a project of statewide significance on the Interstate.  This is very problematic since a Governor may modify the TIP to add the project without the approval or endorsement of the MPO, and the MPO would be required to amend the long-range plan to be consistent with the TIP.

Historically, the surface transportation legislation has been considered a largely bipartisan effort, but the drafting of this measure has been riddled with partisan criticisms.  As a result, approximately 100 amendments were filed and about 90 were considered during the markup, most but not all of these being offered by committee Democrats.

The main controversies centered around the elimination of the 10 percent minimum set-aside for Transportation Enhancements, increased truck weight limits on Interstates, funding cuts for Amtrak’s operations, and new authorities for environmental streamlining and project acceleration.

Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) successfully offered an amendment that removed a new provision that would have allowed the President to expedite transportation infrastructure projects to improve U.S. economic competitiveness and let trucks with at least six axles and weighing a maximum of 97,000 pounds operate on Interstates.  Instead, the amendment requires DOT to conduct a comprehensive three-year study of the safety and pavement performance impacts of the widespread use of bigger trucks.  The amendment leaves the provision allowing 126,000 pound trucks on specific 25-mile Interstate segments.

The committee also accepted an amendment by Rep. Peter Defazio (D-OR) that removed a new section of the bill that would have allowed the President to issue an expedited permit for any transportation infrastructure project within two years of the bill’s enactment if the President determined the project would boost the country’s economic competitiveness.

The committee rejected an amendment by Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI) that would have preserved an annual set-aside for transportation enhancements (at the FY2009 level) and preserved the eligibility of abandoned railways to bike paths, scenic preservation and safe routes to schools as eligible uses of TE funds.  The amendment failed narrowly by a vote of 27-29.

The House is expected to bring the full SAFETEA-LU rewrite proposal to the House floor before the President’s Day recess, which begins February 20.

To view a copy of the legislation that will be considered on the House floor, click here.

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