House to unveil $494B surface bill, including promised climate focus

Tanya Snyder

The House Transportation Committee's surface transportation bill will be a $494 billion, five-year effort that hews closely to the framework released in January and contains a hefty focus on climate mitigation, as House leadership has promised.

The bill will contain $319 billion for highways, $105 billion for transit and $60 billion for rail, according to a source familiar with the committee's plans. It was unclear where the remaining $10 billion would be allocated.

The major themes of the bill are state of good repair, safety and climate mitigation and resiliency.

The coronavirus threw the committee a curveball, and in response the draft would delay the implementation of new highway and transit policies until after the first year of the bill, in recognition of the myriad challenges state transportation departments are facing due to coronavirus and the economic downturn. The bill's higher funding levels would take effect immediately, however. That first year, states would also be able to use funds for operations and administrative expenses, with no required local match.

The delayed policy changes include a $28 billion dedicated bridge investment program and an expansion of existing state pilot programs to test vehicle miles traveled fee collection mechanisms, with nearly twice the funding allocation as the FAST Act and a strengthened focus on cybersecurity. It would create a new, nationwide VMT pilot program and, according to sources familiar with the draft, would push states toward making their pilots permanent.

Transit would get more than a 50 percent increase in formula funding, with new incentives for transit agencies to increase the frequency and reliability of transit service. The bill would set the federal cost share for Capital Investment Grants at 80 percent, removing DOT’s ability to arbitrarily raise the local requirement, which the agency has come under fire for doing in recent years. However, the bill would allow for agencies coming up with a larger match to be rewarded with a streamlined approval process.

A secondary formula would help agencies upgrade especially old buses, and there would be a five-fold increase in funding for zero-emission buses.

A new DOT office would work to align housing development with transit, with a doubling of transit-planning grants with broadened eligibility.

Buy America certification would become an FTA responsibility, rather than having transit agencies do it themselves, with an eye toward making compliance easier.

DOT would be directed to establish a new performance measure on greenhouse gas emissions that states will need to report on. The highest-achieving states would be given added flexibility for how they’ll use funds from a new $8.4 billion carbon reduction apportionment program, while low-performing states would be required to shift additional money into the program. An apportionment program for resiliency would be funded at $6.3 billion.

The bill includes a $1.8 billion investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

States would be encouraged to prioritize the maintenance of existing highway infrastructure before building new roads or widening existing ones. The bill would allocate $6.3 billion for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

The Ways and Means Committee has not yet decided how it will pay for the bill. The same is true for the Senate Finance Committee.

T&I Democrats have not yet shared details on the bill’s policies or timing with their Republican counterparts, according to a GOP aide.

The committee tentatively plans to mark up the bill June 17. It will be formally introduced Thursday during a pro forma session.