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Congressional Road Safety Caucus puts spotlight on safety

Transportation and safety proposals this year offer optimism for roadway safety advocates

One of the ways members of Congress shine a light on a specific issue is through the formation of congressional caucuses. Reps. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) and Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) have done exactly that in creating the bipartisan Congressional Road Safety Caucus this year.

The Caucus is focused on highlighting the need for Congress to ensure safety is the top priority for the transportation authorization and infrastructure package.

One of the first steps came on April 14, when Reps. Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.) and Westerman introduced the High Risk Rural Roads Safety Grant Program Act in the House. The Act would create a new competitive grant program for local jurisdictions and tribal nations to focus federal funding on rural and tribal road safety projects.

Funded at $600 million annually, this proposal would give a needed boost to targeting safety challenges on these rural and tribal roadways.

Other roadway safety proposals are also being considered on Capitol Hill.

On June 10, the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee passed its version of a surface transportation authorization, sending it to the House floor for consideration, likely this summer. The legislation, which includes a focus on roadway safety infrastructure, features increased funding for Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) and a trigger mechanism mandating that states invest in rural road safety projects if their rural road fatality rates are over the national median.

Additionally, a proposal, led by Reps. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), directs the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to create a roadway worker protection working group that will be a critical component of work zone fatality reduction collaboration. This language was strongly supported by ATSSA and stems from the work by the ATSSA Board of Directors in tackling the issue of safety in work zones.

Although ATSSA and other organizations supported an effort to create a competitive grant program focused on infrastructure investments related to automated vehicles (AVs), that amendment was not included. Stakeholders will continue working with members of Congress to ensure adequate funds are available for infrastructure investments so AVs can safety interact with our transportation network.

Since January, Congress and the Biden administration have been putting forth proposals that not only talk about roadway safety but also dedicate significant federal resources to dramatically reduce fatalities and serious injuries toward zero. These are critical steps to making roadways safer and saving thousands of lives on highways and streets from coast to coast. Although the job is not yet done, this initial recommitment by elected officials to roadway safety has the potential to make 2021 the kickoff year to what could become a half decade of roadway safety.

Roadway Safety in the Biden Infrastructure Plan
On March 31, President Joe Biden released his wide-ranging infrastructure plan, which had four distinct infrastructure components and included $571 billion for transportation projects.

In a first for a presidential administration, it included a specific roadway safety section and $20 billion in funding. This was above the typical safety eligibilities that fall within the highway investments section of the plan.

Of that $20 billion, $8 billion was targeted to increase funding for HSIP while another $10 billion was to create a new “Safe Streets for All” program dedicated to investing in Vision Zero projects.

The proposal represents significant progress in moving toward zero deaths on U.S. roadways. Projects funded by HSIP are proven to be lifesaving, cost-effective countermeasures that do just that.

Roadway Safety in the U.S. Senate
Rural roads have long been a priority for ATSSA and its stakeholder partners. This spring, Sens. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.)  took a step in that direction with their bipartisan proposal.

On May 20, they introduced the High Risk Rural Roads Safety Act that would ensure that increased funding in HSIP would be targeted to rural roads and tribal roads.

The fatality rate on rural roads is twice that of non-rural roads and one of the biggest challenges is financial resources.

Additional encouraging news came on May 22 when the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee released its five-year, $304 billion surface transportation package, which includes a significant focus on roadway safety. The legislation included $16.8 billion for HSIP, $120 million for tribal road safety and up to $300 million dedicated to rural road safety related to lane departures. Additionally, it allows for safety contingency funds to be 100% federally funded so roadway work zones can have the most cutting-edge safety protections for workers and road users alike.

The Senate EPW Committee made quick work of the proposal, unanimously passing it out of committee on May 26.

All of these actions in the nation’s capital provide positive prospects for advocates of roadway safety. We will continue advocating on behalf of our members and everyone who uses the nation’s roads, working to make strides toward zero deaths.

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