Congress Passes Long-Term Transportation Bill
On the morning of June 28, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision regarding the Affordable Care Act in what was the most prominent news event of the year. The announcement, however, eclipsed a rare but impressive event—Congress getting something done. In the early morning hours of that same day, Congress passed the first long-term surface transportation bill in nearly seven years.
The bill, known as The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21, extends federal transportation programs until the end of the 2014 fiscal year. For the most part, the legislation funds the Highway Trust Fund and transportation programs at current levels, without increasing user fees. MAP-21 passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law by the president.
The $120 billion authorization bill includes several environmental provisions. It aims to streamline projects by exempting some emergency projects from environmental reviews, especially following a natural disaster.
MAP-21 moves popular programs like Safe Routes to School and Transportation Enhancements into a larger program called Transportation Alternatives. While these programs face a large cut, the reorganization also gives states greater flexibility in allocating funding. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials stated that, “Action taken by the House and Senate to approve a multiyear surface transportation bill ensures that the nation's highway and transit programs will continue uninterrupted.”
In addition to the various transportation programs, the law extends the National Flood Insurance Program and prevents federal student loan interest rates from increasing. The bill is fully paid for through pension reform and by making general fund transfers.
Overall, MAP-21 is a step in the right direction for states. It provides states with some certainty in budgeting their transportation dollars, preserves many existing programs and allows greater flexibility in spending federal money. But it does not come without a cost. The provisions in the bill intended to enhance streamlining could rile environmental groups worried about public health taking a back seat to construction. Also, let’s not forget the calendar. MAP-21 is set to expire in the fall of 2014—right before the next midterm Congressional election.