Logistics Management featured a Q&A with Venable partner Jim Burnley in a December 15, 2015 article following the passage of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act by Congress and signed into law earlier this month. The new law ends a series of short-term transportation and infrastructure funding extensions dating back to 2009 and contains various freight- and transportation-related provisions.
When asked about the significance of the new law, Burnley said, "First and foremost, the fact that it is a five-year bill is very significant, because it permits state and local agencies to substantially agree on federal aid for highway and transit programs to do longer-term planning and implementation plans to improve our infrastructure in both areas. It is hard for some people not directly involved in such programs to understand how disruptive it is to have these short-term extensions as it creates a dynamic where planning is disrupted and the execution of those plans is disrupted because most public agencies by law are not allowed to make commitments until they know they've got the funding. A five-year bill matters, it really does matter."
Previous transportation and infrastructure spending bills have relied heavily on the federal gas tax for funding, however the new law leaves that tax unchanged meaning alternatives will have to be considered in the future according to Burnley. "That fuel tax-based system does not work anymore, and the tax needs to be raised too much so the politics of that are impossible I think," he said. "So what we may see is a renewed interest in alternative funding mechanisms starting with a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax, which is already being used in pilot programs in California right now. The perception is that if those go well it will make it all the more likely that the attention will turn to VMT in the years to come. It is a sensible approach particularly when you have policies designed not only to reduce the amount of gas and diesel burned by trucks and cars that are propelled by those products and programs in place to encourage vehicles to have alternative fuels first and foremost electric cars. And at this point I don’t think anybody can argue with a straight face that they get a free pass."