New transportation bill at a glance

June 29, both the House and Senate voted to pass the Conference Report to the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21/H.R.4348) legislation, the surface transportation authorization bill. The House passed the conference report by a vote of 373 to 52 and shortly thereafter, the Senate passed the conference report by a vote of 74 to 19.

The final conference agreement provides for a limited increase for Federal Transit Programs, providing a total of $10.578 billion in authorized funding in FY 2013 and $10.695 billion in FY 2014. Funding authorized from the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund amounts to $8.478 billion in FY 2013 and $8.595 billion in FY 2014, with $2.1 billion authorized from the General Fund in each fiscal year.

Some positives are a new transit-oriented development pilot program and an increase in funding to help keep transit systems in a state of good repair.  A new bus and bus facilities program has also been added. The bill also establishes federal oversight over transit safety. However, the ability for transit agencies to flex federal funds for operating during hard economic times (high unemployment levels) was taken out.   Raising Commuter tax benefits to the level of parking benefits was scrapped as well. Drivers can deduct up to $240 a month on their taxes for parking, whereas transit riders max out at $125.

 Bike and pedestrian funding did not fair well.  Transportation Enhancements program is no more, and there now is the “Transportation Alternatives” program which cuts bike/pedestrian funding significantly. In addition the funds can only be used on certain types of road projects. Complete Streets language was taken out of the bill as well. 

The TIFIA loan program, which leverages private investment and local dollars to fund infrastructure projects, saw a budget jump from $122 million to $1 billion.   LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s 30/10 plan, 30 years of public transit infrastructure built in 10 years, is an example of one project that has applied for funds under this program. 

The bill also expands tolling authority – not to existing roadways, but to more highway expansions than were previously allowed.

The bill includes performance goals for air quality, freight movement, safety and state of good repair for both highways and transit however it does not tie funding to achievement of the goals.

The TIGER Grant Program is no more. However there is the “Projects of National and Regional Significance” carried over from  SAFETEA-LU  which some tranportation experts say could be similar to the TIGER program.  Projects will be funded on a discretionary basis. 

 High-speed rail isn’t even mentioned.

This 27 month bill provides gives agencies a little more opportunity for planning over the consecutive extensions to the bill that have been happening for the last several years, but many transportation experts say it is not long enough to build long term plans for transportation with such a short window.