Last week, during a six-hour hearing where lawmakers offered over 150 amendments, the House of Representative’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee marked up and approved the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 (H.R. 3763), a six-year, $325 billion surface transportation reauthorization bill. The bill would authorize $261 billion to highways, $55 billion to transit and approximately $9 billion to safety programs from fiscal years 2016 through 2021.
In addition to authorizing general highway spending for six years, the bill aims to improve the nation’s infrastructure by providing fiscal certainty to state and local governments, streamlining the environmental review and permitting processes, and improving truck and bus safety.
Of particular importance to NACS and its members, the bill contains several provisions related to interstate tolling. Under an existing tolling pilot program, three states are conditionally approved to implement toll roads on federal interstates. While the three states (Virginia, Missouri and North Carolina) have been conditionally approved for a number of years and have not yet moved forward with the tolling expansion, the legislation considered by the committee would add new obligations to any state participating in the program.
Specifically, the legislation would require each state to approve legislation authorizing the tolling project and would implement a “use it or lose it” provision where each state would have a three-year time period for tolling projects that are conditionally approved to either move forward or lose its pilot program slot.
Importantly, the House bill neither expands the number of tolling slots, nor does it allow funds to be diverted to other purposes. This stands in contrast to the Senate’s transportation reauthorization bill—the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act—which allows funds collected by tolling an interstate to be spent on unrelated projects. The DRIVE Act was approved by the Senate earlier this summer.
Additionally, during the course of the markup, Representatives Grace Napolitano (D-CA) and Jerry Nadler (D-NY) introduced an amendment that would allow state governments to permit electric vehicle charging stations and natural gas refueling infrastructure in rest areas along the interstate, believing that such a measure would improve air quality standards. Though the amendment was ultimately withdrawn, it was done under the assumption that the two representatives would have the opportunity to continue to discuss such a provision with Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and ranking member Peter DeFazio (D-OR).
According to Chairman Shuster, the bill, as amended, will be on the House floor in the next week or two. In the meantime, he will continue to work with the House Ways and Means Committee to find a revenue source that could fund the bill. While the House continues to make progress on its legislation, Congress will likely need to enact a short-term extension of the current highway authorization—set to expire on October 29—as the House and Senate reconcile their respective bills.