At long last – an entire decade, actually – it appears that Congress has finally cobbled together a multi-year funding measure. The bill, called the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act,” is set for congressional approval this week and is expected to be signed into law by President Obama.
On balance, the measure is a very positive development. It will fully fund a five-year, $305 billion highway and public transportation program, boosting revenue by 15 and 18 percent in those programs, respectively. Other provisions would streamline the planning and approval process for transportation projects, provide incentives for improving safety and create grants for passenger rail systems to install safety devices to prevent derailments and train-to-train collisions.
On the other hand, it does not address longer-term revenue needs, using one-time revenue transfers and accounting methods to fund significant portions of the program. The federal gasoline tax, unchanged since 1993, remains at 18.4 cents per gallon. The $14 billion annual shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund requiring subsidies from the General Fund will grow to $20 billion by 2021.
Moreover, even with the increases for highways and public transportation, the measure falls well short of the level required for restoring our infrastructure to the world-class transportation system it once was. Nevertheless, the measure should begin to stem the tide of the slow deterioration of our surface transportation assets over recent decades.
Transportation Issue Update
- The five-year federal transportation funding bill that’s expected to pass this week is the longest duration for program reauthorization in a decade, but it does not constitute a long-term plan for funding infrastructure.
- Coalition members Pat Krebs and Richard Norford weighed in with a letter to the editor on the need to address byclclist and pedestrian safety in a comprehensive transportation funding bill.
- A federal report noted that Vehicle Miles Traveled in the U.S. has increased for 19 consecutive months, thus highlighting the disconnect between the manner in which we raise revenue for transportation and our national energy policy.
- The Turnpike’s latest advancement in cashless tolling will involve photographing license plates and mailing a bill to owners’ homes.
- In other Turnpike news, the commission laid out its plans for widening the toll road to six lanes along a 14-mile stretch in Berks and Chester counties, along with a 10-mile stretch between the Irwin and Monroeville exits.
- Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said his office will take a look at why the Turnpike has $33 million in unpaid tolls.
- Lawmakers in Harrisburg made a nearly unanimous decision to impose extra fines and penalties on drivers who injure highway workers or law enforcement officers in a construction zone.
- PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards is thankful for the additional revenue generated by Act 89, but she notes that Pennsylvania funding continues to fall shy of the amount needed to fully maintain the state’s transportation infrastructure.