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Alleluia! At last, a multi-year Highway bill!

Alleluia! At Last, A Multi-Year Highway Bill!

More gray hairs: President Obama today signed the first long-term highway bill of his Administration. (White House)

More gray hairs: President Obama today signed the first long-term highway bill of his Administration. (White House)

by ROB McMANAMY | Dec 4, 2015

At this point, maybe the two sides just got tired of ruining each other's holidays. Tired of hearing relatives and constituents complaining about how the other side just doesn't care about America's future, at least not in the right way. Either way, ladies and gentlemen, once President Obama signs the new legislation some time today, the U.S. will have its first long-term highway bill in a decade. 

Happy Holidays!

Ironically named FAST, for Fixing America's Surface Transportation, the new, five-year, $305-billion bill was miraculously passed by both the Senate (83-16) and House of Representatives (359-65) earlier this week. It represents the first federal highway deal for a period longer than two years to be signed into law since 2005. The FAST Act also arrives just in time to avert an imminent deadline for transportation spending, which was set to expire on Dec. 4.

“After 36 extensions, hundreds of Congressional meetings, two bus tours, visits to 43 states, and so much uncertainty, it has been a long and bumpy ride to a long-term transportation bill," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "It’s not perfect, and there is still more left to do, but it reflects a bipartisan compromise I always knew was possible.”

  • The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) summarizes FAST. To read Part One, click here.

Funded with gas tax revenue and $70 billion in federal budget "offsets", the 1,300-page bill, allocates some $205 billion for highways, and $48 billion for transit projects, all through 2020. (Not to throw cold water on this historic moment, but we should all also remember the D+ grade earned on the last ASCE Infrastructure Report Card in 2013, which said $3.6 trillion in repairs were needed, also by 2020!)

There are a number of things to like about the Fast Act... [But] five years go by fast. In four, state transportation departments will again be staring at a looming funding abyss.
— Peter Ruane, CEO, Artba

"This legislation [is] a real step forward for our transportation infrastructure after years of short-term patches," said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. "We've talked a lot about the need that state and local authorities have for some certainty. Infrastructure projects often -- at least the most impactful ones -- take years to build, and if the federal government is providing funding at increments of a few months at a time, it's going to undermine the ability to effectively plan for the long-term." 

Earnest did note, however, that the White House had initially "put forward a transportation funding bill that actually is substantially larger," referencing the six-year, $478 billion bill proposed this last spring. "So we would actually view this legislation as a step in the right direction, but only a first step," he told The Hill

Industry reviews were grateful, but ultimately realistic. 

“We have waited a long time for our congressional leaders to make transportation infrastructure a national priority and it appears that it has been worth the wait,” said Jeff Loveng, chairman of America’s Infrastructure Alliance, a nonprofit coalition representing airlines, seaports, railroads, road builders, and trucking firms.

“The overwhelming, bipartisan vote for passage of the FAST Act shows once again that transportation infrastructure is a thread that has the capacity to bind America—whether it is red, blue or purple," said Peter Ruane, president and CEO of American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA). “The good news is that from a public policy standpoint, there are a number of things to like about the FAST Act... [But] here is the bad news: Congress and the Obama Administration again sidestepped a golden opportunity to put the federal highway and transit investment program back on solid financial footing for the long-term.  Five years goes by fast. In four years, state transportation departments will again be staring at a looming funding abyss."

Added Ruane, "At best, we will be treading water."

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