State Agency Chiefs to Assess Pending Legislation, Progress on FAST Act Programs
Chief executives of state departments of transportation are meeting with key lawmakers and regulators in Washington, D.C., Feb. 23-26 for a prolonged briefing on upcoming legislation and on implementation of the new five-year FAST Act surface transportation law.
The meeting, AASHTO’s Washington Briefing, comes nearly three months after President Obama signed the FAST Act into law, giving state DOTs and transit agencies welcome multiyear program certainty along with modestly higher levels of federal funding.
And it comes two months after Congress passed a 2016 omnibus spending bill that will free up roughly $2 billion in unused project earmark funding that states will be able to repurpose to new projects in the same general locations.
So far, state officials are waiting for guidance or allocation documents from the U.S. Department of Transportation to begin using important parts of those measures.
The FAST Act includes a new grant program for freight project within the highway program. So states are looking for the Federal Highway Administration to explain how that program will work, as well as to the FHWA for documents allowing them to make use of the old earmarks freed up by the 2016 spending bill.
In addition, state officials and others in the transportation industry will be looking for the USDOT to open up this year’s $500 million TIGER infrastructure grant application process. TIGER grants have gone to a wide array of highway, transit, port, freight rail and alternative transportation projects.
“Every year, our Washington Briefing plays an important role in bringing state and federal officials together to work on the issues they share,” said AASHTO Executive Director Bud Wright.
“This year is especially significant,” he added, “as our state agency CEOs begin allocating their first-year FAST Act funds and try to absorb new programs, and as Congress begins moving toward new legislation for aviation and water projects. State DOTs face a packed regulatory and legislative agenda, so our program gives them an intensive look at all those issues so the CEOs can decide how best to leverage federal opportunities to improve their transportation systems back home.”
Subject to late changes in the conference agenda, the state agency CEOs are slated on Feb. 24 to hear from a number of congressional leaders on transportation issues. They are Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and EPW’s ranking member Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. From the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking Democrat Peter DeFazio or Oregon is scheduled to speak, as well as Sam Graves, R-Mo., who chairs the Highways and Transit Subcommittee.
A Feb. 25 regulatory panel on implementation of the FAST ACT and its predecessor MAP-21 will include top officials from the FHWA, Federal Railroad Administration, National Transportation Safety Board, Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Transit Administration.
The conference will also provide a chance to bring AASHTO members together with industry partner groups. One session includes participation by the American Public Transportation Association, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, the Institute of Transportation Engineers, National Waterways Conference and Associated General Contractors.