|The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing on Wednesday, February 24 to discuss the importance of investing in transportation, while addressing climate change, improving equity, and fostering economic growth and innovation.
While the economy is starting to show signs of recovery, close to 15 million people in the U.S. remain unemployed. Last week a catastrophic ice storm blew through the South, the most recent extreme weather event to hit the country, leaving millions without power and safe drinking water for days. This past year we have seen hurricane-force winds in Iowa and raging wildfires in California and Colorado. Additionally, every 100 minutes, Louisiana loses a football field of land to rising sea levels. Scientists predict that if climate change is left unchecked, disasters like these are going to get worse in the years to come.
However, with smart investments in transportation infrastructure, these challenges can be diminished. Improving the conditions of America’s roads, highways, and bridges will create millions of jobs, lift up communities, build a more stable economy, and improve the air quality for a healthier, more prosperous future. Today, less than half of the federal-aid highways and bridges are in good condition, with majority of the infrastructure outdated. There is a clear need for modernized transportation infrastructure that is safer and more sustainable.
In October, President Trump signed the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act to avoid a government shutdown. This bill included a one-year extension of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or “FAST Act”, the current surface transportation authorization law which is set to expire on September 30, 2021. The FAST Act provides much needed funding to state and local governments experiencing shortfalls due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ranking Member Capito (R-W.Va.) met with President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Secretary Buttigieg last week to discuss the importance of prioritizing the next surface transportation bill. She stated, “This bill could facilitate a recovery from the pandemic that has devastated our communities and wreaked havoc on our economy. Transportation is the platform that can drive economic growth.” A stable federal surface transportation program is becoming more crucial as states continue to deal with the loss of revenue from the pandemic.
Here are several key policy priorities that could be in the next reauthorization bill:
- Expansion of electric and hydrogen-fuel vehicles line produced by top auto manufacturers
- Increase of accessibility and ease of walking, biking, or taking public transit as means of transportation, rather than only relying on cars
- Strengthen infrastructure to withstand the effects of extreme weather and climate change
- Accountability to ensure that federal funds are invested in well-designed projects that expand equity and lift the national as a whole
- Creation of a framework that recognizes different transportation needs across the country, while balancing important national goals
- Efficiently deliver projects that improve roads and bridges with an average of seven years to complete
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works has a strong track record of developing bills in a bipartisan manner, and this bill with not be an exception. Lawmakers are hopeful to have a bill mark up and report no later than Memorial Day.
As always, we will continue to monitor this and update you accordingly. If you would like more information please email Charlotte.Bureau@arlaw.com.
B. Jeffrey Brooks
Adams and Reese LLP
20 F Street NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20001