October 22, 2015
From Infra Americas

by Eugene Gilligan

A bill that would reauthorize federal highway and transportation programs for six years was introduced in the US House of Representatives on 20 October.

The bill, called the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 (HR 3763), aims to cut funding for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program from USD 1bn per year to USD 200m over a six-year period. The bill would also authorize approximately USD 330bn in surface transportation programs through fiscal year 2021.

The legislation was introduced by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Schuster (R-Pa) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore), the committee’s ranking member. Short-term transportation legislation that Congress passed in July is set to expire on 29 October.

"The TIFIA cut is disappointing because TIFIA is really one of the most successful catalysts for P3 projects in the history of USDOT," Marcus Lemon, shareholder at Polsinelli and former Chief Counsel to the Federal Highway Administration, told InfraAmericas. "I do think the program worked better when TIFIA was not a rolling automatic payout program, but rather had a more selective and subjective process for approval and ranking of projects."

"We frankly need a 'grand compromise' to figure out how to pay for a truly robust transportation program and stop engaging in this piecemeal extension habit," Lemon said.

Funding programs
The question of how these transportation programs will be funded has yet to be determined.

The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is charged with authorizing transportation investments but it is the responsibility of the Ways and Means Committee to fund the programs through the Highway Trust Fund (HTF).

The HTF has been running a deficit in recent years, primarily due to lawmakers’ reluctance to raise the gasoline tax, and more fuel efficient cars that generate less revenue for the gasoline tax.

Moving projects forward
The bill would also create a National Surface Transportation Innovative Finance Bureau. The bureau will provide assistance to help state, local and private sector partners “move transportation projects forward,” according to a statement issued by the committee.

“This is a bill that improves our roads, bridges and transportation system, as well as our economy, our competitiveness, and our everyday lives,” Shuster said, in a statement. “The legislation streamlines, consolidates and reforms transportation programs and offices, gives states and local governments more control in addressing their needs, refocuses on national transportation priorities, facilitates the full flow of freight and commerce, and promotes innovation as improve our infrastructure for the future.”

Calls to the committee were not returned by press time.