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GROW AMERICA Act

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx this week released the Obama Administration’s four-year, $302 billion surface transportation reauthorization proposal, dubbed the GROW AMERICA Act (Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America). According to U.S. DOT, the proposal would:
  • Address the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund and provide $87 billion to address the nation’s backlog of deficient bridges and aging transit systems;
  • Create millions of new jobs to ensure America’s future competitiveness;
  • Increase safety across all modes of surface transportation, including increasing the civil penalties the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) can levy against automakers who fail to act quickly on vehicle recalls;
  • Provide certainty to state and local governments that must engage in long-term planning;
  • Reduce project approval and permitting timelines while delivering better outcomes for communities and the environment;
  • Bolster efficient and reliable freight networks to support trade and economic growth; and
  • Create incentives to better align planning and investment decisions to comprehensively address regional economic needs while strengthening local decision-making.
The GROW AMERICA Act would provide $199 billion over four years for the Federal-aid highway program, a 22 percent increase over current levels; $72 billion for public transit and expanded transportation options, a nearly 70 percent increase; $19 billion for rail; $10 billion for a multi-modal freight program; $5 billion for the TIGER discretionary grant program; and $4 billion for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan program.
 
The Intelligent Transportation Systems research program would be increased from the current level of $100 million per year to $113 million in FY 2015, with incremental increases through FY 2018 when the program would be funded at $120 million. The proposal would also continue the Technology and Innovation Deployment Program established in MAP-21, funded at $70 million in FY 2015 and increasing to just over $74 million in FY 2018.
Consistent with the President’s FY 2015 budget request, the reauthorization proposal would be funded by supplementing current Highway Trust Fund revenues with a one-time $150 billion revenue transfer from proceeds generated through corporate tax reform, passage of which is considered unlikely in the near future by many Members of Congress.
 
Of significant note, the President’s proposal would provide greater flexibility for states to use tolling as a revenue source by eliminating the prohibition on tolling of existing Interstates for the purposes of reconstruction, subject to approval of the Secretary. This provision would also allow variably-priced tolling on existing highways, bridges, or tunnels for purposes of congestion management, and would allow toll revenues to be used to improve public transit services provided these services are within the same corridor as the toll facility or the service contributes to the improved operation of the highway or toll facility. As of October 1, 2015, all new toll facilities on Federal-aid highways will be required to use only non-cash electronic toll collection technology.
 
A few other highlights of interest:
  • Under the proposed National Freight Infrastructure Program, project selection criteria includes “the extent to which the project demonstrates the use of innovative technology, strategies, and practices.”
  • Strategies for improving the condition and performance of the national freight system within the National Freight Policy include the use of advanced technology and innovationand the use ofperformance management.”
  • State Freight Plans must consider all modes of freight and show “evidence of consideration of innovative technologies and operational strategies, including intelligent transportation systems, that improve the safety and efficiency of freight movement.”
  • To support making transportation investment decisions, the Secretary shall “direct the collection of appropriate transportation-related data, including data to measure the condition and performance of the national freight system.”
  • A new Innovative Technology Deployment Grant program would be authorized for the Secretary to provide grants to states for innovative technologies that support commercial motor vehicle information systems with the purpose of advancing the technological capability and deployment of intelligent transportation systems for commercial vehicle operations. The core and expanded funding caps applicable to the CVISN program would be eliminated, increasing flexibility and removing artificial constraints, limits, and delays in the deployment of ITS-related technologies.
“ITS America is encouraged by the Obama Administration’s introduction of the GROW AMERICA Act, as it demonstrates their commitment to improving the safety and efficiency of the surface transportation network while addressing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure,” said ITS America President and CEO Scott Belcher. “We commend President Obama and Secretary Foxx for putting forward a concrete proposal and we stand ready to support the Administration and Congress as they work to reauthorize and find sustainable funding for surface transportation programs. In addition, we will continue assisting all policymakers in advancing the research and deployment of intelligent transportation systems to improve safety and mobility, get more out of our existing infrastructure, and modernize our nation’s transportation network to meet current and future demands.”
 
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation has already scheduled a hearing with Secretary Foxx for next Wednesday, May 7 at 2:30 p.m. to focus on the reauthorization of surface transportation programs and review the Administration’s reauthorization proposal. According to the Committee, the hearing “will highlight the need to allocate more resources to underfunded areas of the nation’s transportation system, including to programs that move freight, focus on safety, and concentrate on growing rail service.” More information about the hearing, including a link to the live webcast, are available on the Commerce Committee website here.
 
Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) also told POLITICO today that she hopes to introduce the Senate EPW Committee’s reauthorization proposal “early next week.”
 
The proposed bill text for the GROW AMERICA Act is online here, a section-by-section analysis is available here, and theme-based fact sheets can be found here.