On December 4, 2015, President Obama signed into law the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or “FAST Act.” It is the first law enacted in over ten years that provides long-term funding certainty for surface transportation, meaning States and local governments can move forward with critical transportation projects, like new highways and transit lines, with the confidence that they will have a Federal partner over the long term. Secretary Foxx and his team at U.S. DOT have worked tirelessly to advocate for a long term bill, underscoring the needed sense of urgency to the American people.
As Secretary Foxx said, “After hundreds of Congressional meetings, two bus tours, visits to 43 states, and so much uncertainty – and 36 short term extensions – it has been a long and bumpy ride to a long-term transportation bill. It’s not perfect, and there is still more left to do, but it reflects a bipartisan compromise I always knew was possible.”
Overall, the FAST Act largely maintains current program structures and funding shares between highways and transit. It is a down-payment for building a 21st century transportation system, increasing funding by 11 percent over five years. This is far short of the amount needed to reduce congestion on our roads and meet the increasing demands on our transportation systems. In comparison, the Administration’s proposal, the GROW AMERICA Act, increases funding by 45 percent.
The law also makes changes and reforms to many Federal transportation programs, including streamlining the approval processes for new transportation projects, providing new safety tools, and establishing new programs to advance critical freight projects.
Below is a more detailed summary of some FAST Act provisions. More detailed descriptions of how the FAST Act will affect each mode of transportation will be released in the coming weeks.
PROJECT DELIVERY: DOT has been a leader in reducing the bureaucratic red tape that can stall and delay critical transportation projects from moving forward. The FAST Act adopted a number of Administration proposals to further speed the permitting processes while still protecting environmental and historic treasures and also codifying the online system to track projects and interagency coordination processes.
FREIGHT: The FAST Act would establish both formula and discretionary grant programs to fund critical transportation projects that would benefit freight movements. These programs are similar to what the Administration proposed and will for the first time provide a dedicated source of Federal funding for freight projects, including multimodal projects. The Act emphasizes the importance of Federal coordination to focus local governments on the needs of freight transportation providers.
INNOVATIVE FINANCE BUREAU: The FAST Act establishes a new National Surface Transportation and Innovative Finance Bureau within the Department to serve as a one-stop shop for state and local governments to receive federal funding, financing or technical assistance. This builds on the work of the Department’s Build America Transportation Investment Center and provides additional tools to improve coordination across the Department to promote innovative finance mechanisms. The Bureau is also tasked with responsibility to drive efficiency in the permitting process, consistent with our request to establish a dedicated permitting office.
TIFIA: The TIFIA Loan program provides important financing options for large projects and public-private partnerships. The FAST Act includes organizational changes that will provide an opportunity for important structural improvements with the potential to accelerate the delivery of innovative finance projects. However, FAST’s cut to the TIFIA program could constrain growth in this area over the course of the bill.
SAFETY: The FAST Act includes authority sought by the Administration to prohibit rental car companies from knowingly renting vehicles that are subject to safety recalls. It also increased maximum fines against non-compliant auto manufactures from $35 million to $105 million. The law also will help bolster the Department’s safety oversight of transit agencies and also streamlines the Federal truck and bus safety grant programs, giving more flexibility to States to improve safety in these areas. However, we know the bill also took a number of steps backwards in terms of the Department’s ability to share data with the public and on the Department’s ability to exercise aggressive oversight over our regulated industries.
TRANSIT: The FAST Act includes a number of positive provisions, including reinstating the popular bus discretionary grant program and strengthening the Buy America requirements that promote domestic manufacturing through vehicle and track purchases.
LADDERS OF OPPORTUNITY: The Act includes a number of items that strengthen workforce training and improve regional planning. These include allocating slightly more formula funds to local decision makers and providing planners with additional design flexibilities. Notably, FAST makes Transit Oriented Development (TOD) expenses eligible for funding under highway and rail credit programs. TOD promotes dense commercial and residential development near transit hubs in an effort to shore up transit ridership and promote walkable, sustainable land use.