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Senate EPW Committee passes safety-focused highway bill

The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee today unanimously passed the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021 (STRA), its proposal to reauthorize the expiring highway program.

The proposed legislation, which was crafted in a bipartisan manner, funds surface transportation programs at $304 billion over five years, which is a 34% increase over current funding levels. This funding includes historic funding levels for the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP), $16.8 billion over the five-year period, which is a nearly $2 billion increase over current funding levels.

In addition to this significant increase in safety funding, there is a focus on roadway safety infrastructure in other portions of the legislation as well, including:

  • $300 million set aside for addressing rural road safety challenges related to lane departures
  • $120.5 million for tribal road safety projects

ATSSA worked hard to ensure that funding levels for HSIP were as high as possible and then continued to work to insert additional safety provisions and funding in other programs throughout the legislation. Now our team will work to ensure these advocacy successes remain in the package as it winds its way through Congress this summer.

Next Steps

For the rest of the surface transportation reauthorization to come together for a vote on the Senate floor, the Senate Committees on Finance; Commerce, Science and Transportation; and Banking, Housing and Urban Development must do their portions of the package. The action taken by the EPW Committee today is a significant first step for the Senate to pass a package this summer, before the expiration of the current highway extension on Oct. 1.

This proposal also sets the foundation for potential additional funding later this year from the Biden administration’s American Jobs Plan, which looks to add billions more in funding for highway formula programs such as HSIP. Negotiations between the White House and Senate Republicans, led by EPW Committee Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), continue to find common ground on a larger investment in infrastructure, beyond STRA.

Additional STRA Analysis

Highway Safety Improvement Program

In a massive win for the industry, funding for the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) in STRA 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 been advocating for $3 billion annually for HSIP. On an annual average, STRA exceeds that goal, with an average of $3.1 billion annually.

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 had been made in reducing that earlier flexibility proposal.

This proposal includes a vulnerable road user (VRU) “trigger” where a state would need to spend at least 15% of its HSIP funds on VRUs if the total annual fatalities of vulnerable road users 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, safety countermeasures and encourage walking and biking.

Work Zone Safety

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

Rural Roads

The legislation includes a new rural surface transportation grant program that would focus federal funds on rural roadway projects, including safety projects. ATSSA successfully advocated for an amendment by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) to set aside 15% for this program for states that have a greater than average fatality rate on rural roads associated with lane departures, which amounts to up to $300 million over five years for safety projects.


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.


Dedicated Short-Range Communications

Two amendments offered by Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) were incorporated into the final package focused on retrofitting dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) assets to cellular vehicle-to-everything assets, following the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) decision on the 5.9 GHz safety band decision.

Tribal Road Safety

The proposal increases the safety set-aside within the tribal transportation program from the current 2% to a proposed 4%, which totals $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 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 U.S. secretary of transportation 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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