GOP’s $400 Billion Highway Bill Focuses on ‘Core Infrastructure’

  • Proposes streamlined permitting, environmental review process
  • Last year’s GOP proposal was $330 billion

House Republicans introduced legislation Wednesday to authorize more than $400 billion over five years for surface transportation programs, 21% higher than their proposal last year.

The bill, led by Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member Sam Graves (R-Mo.), would authorize funding for federal highway, transit, and safety programs. It doesn’t address passenger rail, which was included in the last surface transportation law and in House Democrats’ reauthorization bill passed last year.

Amid negotiations on infrastructure legislation, Graves said he wants to see “these proposals become part of a robust bipartisan effort—just as the President continues to call for.”

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Rep. Sam Graves, ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, makes an opening statement during a hearing in October 2019.

“Republicans want to work together on bipartisan infrastructure solutions, but in order to reach that goal, key principles must be addressed in this process,” Graves said in a statement.

Republican lawmakers say their bill would reduce project delays, invest in rural infrastructure, and give states more decision-making authority. Congress faces a Sept. 30 deadline to renew surface transportation programs, initially authorized under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (Public Law 114-94) and extended for a year last session.

House Democrats, who hold a narrow voting majority in both chambers but face higher hurdles in the Senate, say they will soon release their own highway bill, which will be similar to their $500 billion proposal from the last Congress. That proposal was passed as part of a larger $1.5 trillion infrastructure package. The parties have been divided over the scope of the bill, how much to spend, and how to pay for the programs.

“Dumping more money into a grossly expanded definition of infrastructure just results in more wasted money, more re-reviews of reanalysis, and few solutions,” said Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), a cosponsor of the GOP bill.

Bipartisan Highway Optimism Is High Despite Divergent Bills

Future Funding

The gasoline tax, the main source of federal money for highways and transit, hasn’t increased since 1993. Without additional revenue, the Highway Trust Fund will soon run out of money.

The Republican bill takes steps toward a mileage-based user fee by creating a national pilot program. The Transportation and Treasury departments would test reporting systems for vehicle miles traveled, and ways to collect revenue. The program also would establish a national advisory board to coordinate broader testing.

The legislation also calls for a per-mile road charge for all government-owned vehicles by October 2026. Graves, who supports shifting away from the fuel tax, previously proposed using the U.S. Postal Service to test out a vehicle miles-traveled program.

The bill also proposes tripling the Private Activity Bonds cap to $45 billion, which would allow more tax-exempt bonds to be issued for private projects.

The Biden administration proposed paying for its $2.25 trillion infrastructure package by raising corporate taxes, which Republicans have resisted.The administration’s proposal didn’t address surface transportation reauthorization, although Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said his team is consulting with lawmakers on it.

White House Encouraged by Infrastructure Talks With Republicans

‘Streamlining’

The bill incorporates legislation from other Republicans on the committee, such as the One Federal Decision Act. The legislation would set a government-wide goal of cutting to two yearsthe time required for environmental review and authorization of major infrastructure projects. It would also require federal agencies to develop a single permitting timetable for authorizations and environmental reviews.

“Streamlining the federal permitting and environmental review process absolutely must be a part of an infrastructure package,” said Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), the top Republican on the Highways and Transit Subcommittee and another cosponsor.

The bill would also reauthorize existing grant programs for highway and freight projects, and create some new ones, including a competitive program to test automated driving system technologies. It would also set aside funding in the National Highway Freight Program for states to improve parking options for trucks.

“Our bill focuses on the core infrastructure that helps move people and goods through our communities every single day, cuts red tape that holds up project construction, and gets resources into the hands of our states and locals with as few strings attached as possible,” said Graves, the ranking member.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at lbyington@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergindustry.com

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