The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) has unanimously passed its surface transportation reauthorization bill, a bipartisan measure supported by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA).
The Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021 (download below) represents a 34% increase over the FAST (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act, which expired in 2020 and Congress extended one year to Sept. 30, 2021.
AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies expressed his support on May 26: “Today reminded us of what we in the transportation sector have always known—infrastructure should be bipartisan. This reauthorization bill will help rebuild our surface transportation systems today while also making a substantial down payment on the nation’s future needs. Railroads commend EPW Committee members for their resolve and uniform bipartisan commitment to modernizing our nation’s highway infrastructure.”
ASLRRA, too, voiced its support.
“ASLRRA members will find a lot to like in this bill, including addressing rail-highway grade crossing safety and improvements to funding and multi-modal flexibility in both the INFRA and state freight formula programs,” ASLRRA President Chuck Baker said.
“While there are areas where we would like to see modifications before final implementation, we want to applaud the efforts of Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), Ranking Member Shelley Moore-Capito (R-W.Va.), Sub-Committee [on Transportation Infrastructure] Chairman Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member [of the Sub-Committee] Kevin Cramer (R-ND), and all Committee members for their work in writing and approving a solid, beneficial bill. Now it is up to the other Committees in the Senate and the House to move in a bipartisan fashion toward a final transportation bill that ensures that the U.S. transportation system continues to drive growth and competitiveness for businesses across the country, while addressing environmental concerns far into the future.”
ASLRRA reported that the bill addresses three priorities for short lines. It provides “stable funding for the Section 130 Rail-Highway Grade Crossing program at $245 million annually, with a variety of improvements to the federal share and incentive payments for closing crossings; raises the multi-modal cap on the INFRA grant program to 30% ($1.44 billion over five years), up from the old 11% cap, while increasing the small project set-aside from 10% to 15%; and it raises the multi-modal cap on the state freight formula program from 10% to 30%, providing about $430 million annually for State DOTs to use on non-highway projects if they so choose.”
Before the bill becomes final legislation, ASLRRA said it would like to see modifications, such as “including some multi-modal flexibility in the new Carbon Reduction Program (Sec. 1403), the Congestion Relief Program (Sec. 1404), and the Rural Surface Transportation Grant Program (Sec. 1133). There are many short line projects throughout the country, from rural disadvantaged areas to ports and urban centers, that would be able to help achieve the goals of these programs if such projects were made eligible for these grants.”
What’s next? Chairman Carper said at the mark-up meeting that it is “imperative that our sister Senate committees—Banking, Commerce, and Finance—act quickly on their portions of surface transportation reauthorization, so we can get this bill across the finish line before the current law expires on September 30.
In announcing the Committee’s unanimous passage of the bill later on May 26, he said: “I’m proud that we’ve advanced a robust, bipartisan investment in our nation’s highways, roads and bridges that will make a vital first down payment on President Biden’s American Jobs Plan. This legislation is an important first step in the critical work needed to upgrade our nation’s infrastructure in a way that creates jobs, combats climate change, and lifts up all Americans for a brighter future.”
“The EPW Committee is setting the standard for bipartisan leadership in the Senate,” said Sen. Capito. The Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act “is further proof that a bipartisan infrastructure deal is possible. I’m hopeful this bipartisan product can be the anchor of a larger infrastructure package moving forward, and I look forward to moving this across the finish line on the Senate floor soon.”