On September 22 Congress approved a sweeping bipartisan vote to extend funding for the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or “FAST Act.” The Fast Act was originally signed into law on Dec. 4th, 2015 and provided $305 billion over fiscal years 2016 through 2020. The act provides federal support for critical transportation projects like new transit lines, bridges and highways. The Department of Transportation (DOT) and the construction industry had advocated for expansion of the program but any changes have been put on hold till next year when a compromise will hopefully be reached.
The original bill from 2015 was designed to help states fund large infrastructure projects while streamlining approval processes for new projects.
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.*
The act also established a Nation Surface Transportation and Innovation Finance Bureau to act as a go-to resource for state and local governments to apply for federal funding, financing, safety and technical assistance.
Efforts to revise and improve the plan were hampered by a legislative log jam as well as circumstances surrounding the pandemic.
Repsresentives Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Sam Graves (R-Mo.), leaders of the House Transportation Policy Panel, expressed agreement on the value of a one-year extension of the highway law, allowing congressional policymakers time to update its provisions.
“With this one-year extension in place, we can continue work on a long-term, transformational bill that significantly boosts investment in our surface transportation network and moves our transportation systems into the 21st century,” DeFazio said.
“As many stakeholders continue to navigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring that states are capable of planning and executing infrastructure projects and preventing any disruptions to the 2021 construction season will keep Americans on the job rebuilding our infrastructure,” Graves noted.**
Revenue declines to public agencies due to COVID-19 have already resulted in cancelation or delay of 8 billion dollars in transportation projects with more cancelations or delays on the horizon. The risk of not passing some sort of extension could have been disastrous to industry and current transportation and infrastructure projects.
A variety of passenger transportation and freight stakeholders had been advocating for a federal tax increase to address the need for $37 billion and $32 billion in emergency funds for the DOT and public transit agencies, respectively. Of course with the economic impact already felt, due to the pandemic, agreeing to a tax increase was problematic.
The extension was tacked on to the larger CR or continuing resolution which provided stopgap funding to the federal government as a whole. The resolution keeps funding of government programs at current levels through Dec. 11 keeping funding afloat till after the election.
The one-year extension for the FAST act will allow for more planning and negotiation that will lead to a serious long-term transportation funding bill that will move our transportation systems forward into the 21st century.