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Senate EPW Committee’s $304B transportation proposal offers win for industry

The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee proposal for a five-year, $304 billion surface transportation bill is a massive win for the roadway safety infrastructure industry with funding for the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) totaling $16.8 billion.

The bipartisan Surface Transportation Reuthorization Act (STRA) released Saturday by the EPW Committee represents a 34% increase over current spending levels.

The legislation represents a bipartisan effort in the Senate to pass a long-term highway reauthorization before the current extension of the law expires Oct. 1. The EPW Committee is expected to consider amendments and vote on the proposal on Wednesday.

“ATSSA commends the bipartisan work of the Senate EPW Committee, and especially the focus on roadway safety infrastructure investments,” ATSSA President & CEO Stacy Tetschner said. “Many elected officials talk about safety, but the chairs and ranking members of EPW are leading by example with this proposal. Although concerns exist with how some safety funding is allowed to be moved to other programs, we look forward to continuing to work with the committee to make the legislation even stronger to ensure that we are continuously moving toward zero deaths. This proposal is a critical start to a legislative process that must be completed before Oct. 1.”

To bring the measure for a floor vote in the Senate, three other Senate committees must act on their portions: Commerce, Science and Transportation; Banking, Housing and Urban Development; and Finance Committees.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee continues deliberations and is expected to act on its version of a highway reauthorization in early June.

EPW Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee Chairman Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Subcommittee Ranking Member Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) support the EPW Committee Proposal.

Below are highlights of the 500-plus page bill regarding roadway safety.

Highway Safety Improvement Program

As mentioned, funding for the HSIP in the proposal totals $16.8 billion over the five-year period. That is compared to $15 billion over the five years of the current law, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.

For more than a decade, ATSSA members and staff have advocated for $3 billion annually for HSIP. On an annual average, STRA exceeds that goal, with a $3.1 billion annual average.

As part of the negotiations in those significantly higher spending levels from HSIP, a state regains the ability to flex up to 10% of funds to behavioral safety programs. This is something ATSSA continues to be concerned about and is working to address in the congressional negotiations. During the 2019 Senate highway bill proposal, that number was targeted at 25% so progress has been made in reducing that flexibility level.

This proposal includes a vulnerable road user “trigger” where a state would need to spend at least 15% of its HSIP funds on vulnerable road users (VRUs) if the total annual fatalities of VRUs exceeds 15% of fatalities in that state. Additionally, the legislation directs the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to develop a VRU plan to focus research on roadway designs and on safety countermeasures and encourage walking and biking.

Work Zone Safety

The Work Zone Safety Grant continues under this proposal. Additionally, ATSSA and our construction industry partners were advocating for a new safety contingency fund to be included in this legislation, which would encourage state departments of transportation (DOTs) to ensure the most effective safety countermeasures are utilized in work zones. This concept was included in STRA.

Rural Roads

The legislation includes a new rural surface transportation grant program, which would focus federal funds on rural roadway projects, including safety projects. Although not explicitly safety-focused, this program identifies safety as a key component for grant eligibility. We are working to ensure that safety is truly the top priority for projects undertaken in this program.

MUTCD

STRA directs USDOT to update the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) within 18 months of enactment and then update the MUTCD every three years thereafter. Additionally, in the first update, the legislation directs USDOT to focus on:

  • Protection of vulnerable road users
  • Supporting safe testing of autonomous vehicle technology
  • Appropriate use of variable message signs to enhance public safety
  • Minimum retroreflectivity of traffic control devices and pavement markings
  • Any additional recommendations by the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD) that have not been incorporated into the MUTCD.

 

Tribal Road Safety

The proposal increases the safety set aside within the tribal transportation program from the current 2% to a proposed 4% for a total of $120.5 million over five years.

Wildlife Crash Mitigation

STRA creates a pilot grant program to focus on wildlife crossing safety, funded at $350 million over five years.

Transportation Management Plans

The proposal clarifies that only projects with a lane closure for three or more consecutive days are deemed significant and it removes the requirement for a transportation management plan for a project not on an interstate and not more than three consecutive days of lane closures.

Pedestrian Security

STRA creates a grant program, funded at $25 million over five years, to focus on stopping threats to pedestrians through the installation of countermeasures such as bollards.

VMT Pilot Program

The legislation creates a nationwide pilot program to demonstrate a national vehicle miles traveled (VMT) user fee as a future user fee mechanism in lieu of the current federal motor fuel user fees.

Roadside Highway Safety Hardware

The legislation directs the USDOT secretary to implement recommendations from the June 2016 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report entitled, “Highway Safety: More Robust DOT Oversight of Guardrails and Other Roadside Hardware Could Further Enhance Safety,” including:

  • Develop a process for third party verification of full-scale crash testing results from crash test labs to include a process for:
    • Formally verifying the testing outcomes
    • Providing for an independent pass/fail determination.
  • Establish a process to enhance independence of crash test labs by ensuring that those labs have a clear separation between device development and testing in cases in which lab employees test devices that were developed within the parent organization of the employee.

 

The legislation also directs USDOT to continue issuing letters of eligibility for federal-aid reimbursement.

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