Obama Administration Releases GROW AMERICA Transportation Bill

Obama Administration Releases GROW AMERICA Transportation Bill

On April 29, 2014, US DOT Secretary Foxx announced the Obama Administration’s proposal for reauthorizing the nation’s surface transportation law. Known by the acronym “GROW AMERICA,” (Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America), the measure proposes a four-year $302 billion surface transportation bill. The proposal relies on $150 billion in new spending paid for by an unspecified one-time corporate tax transaction to augment the dwindling Highway Trust Fund.

Our analysis has found the following possible benefits for municipalities:

– The bill would provide $199 billion for highways, an increase of about 22 percent above FY 2014 enacted levels, emphasizing “Fix-it-First” policies that prioritize investments for repairs and improvements.

– The bill combines funding for highways and transit into a single trust fund, thereby eliminating the yearly need to buttress the transit account, which has been funded in part from the general fund. This will make transit funding much more stable from year to year. This would benefit local transit projects, including bus rapid transit.

– The Act includes policy reforms to incentivize improved regional coordination by Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs). It would strengthen local decision making in allocating Federal funding. High-performing large MPOs will be granted control of a larger portion of funds under two federal transportation programs – the Surface Transportation Program (STP) and the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP). During the last reauthorization bill, the funding formula for STP was changed to give more dollars to state DOTs. This language will be changed to provide more STP funds to MPOs in addition to more TAP funds.

– Lastly, the bill would more than double funding for the TIGER grant program.

The Act would lift current tolling prohibitions, giving states the opportunity to toll on existing highways. Currently, with some exceptions, tolling is not allowed on existing highways. The 2012 reauthorization expanded tolling provisions, allowing states to construct new toll lanes on interstate highways as long as the number of toll-free, non-carpool lanes remained the same. Under the administration’s plan, states would be allowed to toll on these highways for reconstruction and congestion purposes, subject to federal approval.

This is the first time that the Obama Administration has drafted a transportation reauthorization bill (opting to transmit its proposals earlier through the yearly budget). The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is expected to release its version of the bill in early May, thereby officially starting the reauthorization process. It is expected that the Senate bill may use some of the ideas contained in the President’s bill.