On June 3, 2020, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure released the text of its Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America Act (INVEST in America Act), which aims to revitalize transportation infrastructure, respond to the economic effects of COVID-19, and address climate change impacts. The proposed legislation reflects many environmental or "green infrastructure" initiatives consistent with House majority policy priorities. Members of the House minority have already criticized the proposal as lacking any bipartisan consideration. In light of those first reactions, the INVEST in America proposal may not form the basis for a compromise reauthorization statute that could be passed prior to expiration of the current Highway Trust Fund at the end of September or by the November election. The bill, however, most definitely previews the policies to be championed by those challenging the current administration.
With respect to replenishment of the Trust Fund, the proposed bill offers a healthy increase to each of the country's major surface transportation programs. It would authorize nearly $500 billion over five years to address critical infrastructure needs. Of this, $319 billion is designated for highway investments, $105 billion for transit, $60 billion for rail, and $10 billion for passenger and commercial motor vehicle safety. In addition to environmental and equity issues, the proposal addresses the impacts of COVID-19 on various transportation programs. Among other things, the bill would:
- Revise roadway design standards to require consideration of a broader range of users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, public transportation users, children, older individuals, individuals with disabilities, motorists, and freight vehicles;
- Require states and MPOs to consider carbon pollution and emissions reduction, climate change, resilience, and hazard mitigation throughout their planning processes;
- Increase the federal share for projects that use innovative technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
- Prevent transit data from fiscal year 2020 and affected by COVID-19 from being used in the calculation of transit formula apportionments;
- Establish a $600 million per year grant program to support local investments in projects to improve safety, state of good repair, accessibility, and environmental quality through infrastructure investments; and
- More than double funding for the Technology and Innovation Deployment Program and add greenhouse gas emissions reduction as an eligible goal under the Federal Highway Administration Technology and Innovation Deployment Program.
The bill would also create new grant programs focused specifically on improving environmental quality and responding to climate change impacts. These proposals, while reflecting a small percentage of the overall funding plan, have triggered most of the political discussion on Capitol Hill. These proposed programs include:
- A $6.25 billion pre-disaster mitigation program aimed at constructing resilient infrastructure and addressing vulnerabilities of evacuation routes;
- A $350 million annual competitive grant program to promote electric vehicle charging and hydrogen fueling infrastructure;
- A $350 million annual competitive grant program to support local investments in innovative strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and
- A $1.7 billion grant program aimed at increasing zero-emissions bus fleets and associated charging infrastructure, with funding directed to areas with the greatest need to resolve Clean Air Act compliance issues.
As with the FAST Act, the most recent reauthorization bill signed into law in 2015, the House T&I proposal, emphasizes Amtrak service and high-speed rail initiatives. Environmental and energy issues also are reflected in the title and in provisions that seek to improve safety, respond to the effects of COVID-19, and support modernization in the rail transportation sector. For example, the bill would:
- Prohibit stopped freight trains from blocking a public crossing for more than 10 minutes;
- Direct the Federal Railroad Administration and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to evaluate the safety, security, and environmental risks of transporting LNG by rail. The evaluation must consider the types of safety enhancements required to make tank cars and certain rail containers capable of moving LNG safely by rail;
- Provide $29.3 billion in grants over a five-year period to support Amtrak's intercity passenger rail service in the Northeast Corridor (NEC) and National Network, with higher funding levels provided for FY 2021 and FY 2022 to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on Amtrak's network;
- Establish the Passenger Rail Improvement, Modernization, and Expansion (PRIME) Grant program, which provides $19 billion in grants over five years for state of good repair projects, service improvement projects, and rail expansion projects, including high-speed rail; and
- Authorize $2.5 billion in grant funding over five years to build or improve grade crossing separations, with a maximum of 50% of the funds authorized to go to projects that cost $100 million or more.
The chair of the House T&I Committee, Peter DeFazio (D-OR), said the bill provides an "opportunity to replace the outdated systems of the past with smarter, safer, more resilient infrastructure that fits the economy of the future, creates millions of jobs, supports American manufacturing, and restores U.S. competitiveness." 1 And AASHTO's executive director, Jim Tymon, praised the proposed legislation for "recogniz[ing] the challenging financial situation that state DOTs are in now due to the national COVID-19 response."2
The T&I Committee will consider the INVEST in America Act at a markup scheduled for Wednesday, June 17.
1 Press Release, House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Committee Leaders Unveil the INVEST in America Act, a Transformational Surface Transportation Bill to Bring Nation’s Infrastructure into a New Era (June 3, 2020), https://transportation.house.gov/news/press-releases/committee-leaders-unveil-the-invest-in-america-act-a-transformational-surface-transportation-bill-to-bring-nations-infrastructure-into-a-new-era.
2 See House T&I Releases Five-Year $494B Surface Transportation Bill, AASHTO Journal (June 3, 2020), https://aashtojournal.org/2020/06/03/house-ti-releases-five-year-494b-surface-transportation-bill/.