Saturday, June 30, 2012

Transportation Act Passes

The Chamber and many allies celebrated Congress’s welcome exhibition of bipartisanship, as on Friday the House approved a roughly $105 billion federal Transportation bill by a lopsided 373-52 vote and the Senate approved it 74-19. 

President Barack Obama signed a one-week temporary measure Friday evening, permitting the highway and loan programs to continue until the full legislation reaches his desk for signature. Otherwise, the federal transportation and many state and local projects would have stopped today, June 30.

The first major transportation bill since 2005, the legislation would keep highway and transit spending at current levels through the end of fiscal year 2014.

It includes an expansion of a federal loan program to fast-track bus and rail projects in traffic-choked regions.  The transportation measure would create or save 3 million jobs, said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, chief sponsor of the Senate version of the bill

The following are some of the freight-related components in the bill:
·        Projects of National and Regional Significance – (Sec. 1120 – or page 90)

·        National Freight Policy (Sec. 1115, §167 – or page 66)

o   Calls for the establishment of a national freight network

o   Calls for a national freight strategic plan

·        A call for the prioritization of projects to improve freight movement (Sec. 1116 – or page 70)

o   Allows for increased Federal Share (up to 95% for projects on Interstate system; 90% for other projects)

§  Eligible projects:

·        construction, reconstruction, rehabilitation, and operational improvements directly relating to improving freight

·        movement;

·        intelligent transportation systems and other technology to improve the flow of freight;

·        efforts to reduce the environmental impacts of freight movement on the primary freight network;

·        railway-highway grade separation;

·        geometric improvements to interchanges and ramps.

·        truck-only lanes;

·        climbing and runaway truck lanes;

·        truck parking facilities eligible for funding under section 1401;

·        real-time traffic, truck parking, roadway condition, and multimodal transportation information systems;

·        improvements to freight intermodal connectors; and improvements to truck bottlenecks.

·        State Freight Advisory Committees are encouraged (Sec. 1117 – or page 70)

·        State Freight Plans are encouraged (Sec. 1118 – or page 71)

Rs dropped an effort trying to use the bill to advance the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to move oil from western Canada to Texas' Gulf Coast.  Ds made concessions that are likely to lead to less funding for bicycle, pedestrian and beautification project and would halve the time allowed for environmental reviews for highway projects. “This measure includes historic reforms – cutting red tape and consolidating or eliminating nearly 70 federal programs,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica, R-FL.
The Alaska Railroad says that Congress struck a deal to save it from a massive budget cut that could have meant large-scale layoffs and less passenger service.  Railroad officials said Alaska's U.S. Rep. Don Young's office told them Thursday the railroad should expect a $4 million cut instead of the $30 million cut proposed in the Senate version.

The bill also includes a measure to renew the federal flood insurance program for five years. Congressional leaders paved the way for the bill’s approval after dropping a measure that would have forced millions of property owners living near flood control facilities to buy flood insurance. The mandate was designed to shore up an insurance program that is billions of dollars in debt, largely because of Hurricane Katrina and other 2005 hurricanes.

The measure also would avert a doubling of interest rates for millions of college student loans that was threatened to hit Sunday. The student loan measure spares an estimated 7.4 million students who get subsidized Stafford loans beginning July 1 — this Sunday — from facing $1,000 in higher interest costs over the lives of their loans, which typically take over a decade to repay.

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