Bipartisan, $304B Roads Bill Clears Senate Committee

A freeway interchange in Los Angeles, as seen in 2016.

A freeway interchange in Los Angeles, as seen in 2016. iStock.com/trekandshoot

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Lawmakers in both parties are framing the legislation as a potential step toward a broader infrastructure deal. A new, $1 billion program for bike and pedestrian projects was added to the bill during a markup.

A Senate committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a measure to set federal funding levels and policy for road, bridge and highway programs over the next five fiscal years, authorizing $303.5 billion in spending.

The bill would increase funding levels by about 34% compared to the last five-year authorization and by around 22% compared to baseline spending projections from the Congressional Budget Office. Lawmakers from both parties have touted the level of spending in the bill as significant. But it is just a fraction of the much more expansive infrastructure investment package, in the $2 trillion range, that President Biden and many Democrats have been pushing for.

Still, both Democrats and Republicans have framed the bill as a step toward achieving a broader compromise on public works spending.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito is the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee and has served as the lead GOP negotiator on infrastructure talks with the Biden administration.

"There's been a lot of talk about a larger bipartisan agreement in conversation with the White House," the West Virginia senator said during a markup hearing for the highway legislation. "This bill, I think, really is the anchor to those bipartisan discussions."

Capito and other Republicans have rejected the size of Biden's proposal, even after the administration reduced it to around $1.7 trillion, from $2.3 trillion. GOP lawmakers have also rebuffed Biden's plan to raise taxes on corporations to pay for the plan.

The roads bill was amended during Wednesday's hearing, on an 11-9 vote, to include a new grant program for bicycle and pedestrian projects. The bipartisan sponsors of that amendment—Sens. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, a Democrat, and Dan Sullivan of Alaska, a Republican—scaled back their original proposal, dropping the funding level for the grant initiative to $200 million a year, from $500 million.

Trail and cycling advocates lobbied for this program. Capito opposed the amendment creating it, noting other funding for pedestrian, bike and trail programs is included elsewhere in the legislation.

"I see the amendment as duplicative and unnecessary," she said. "It's another billion dollars."

Sen. Tom Carper, of Delaware, who chairs of the Environment and Public Works panel, highlighted spending in the bill to reduce carbon emissions and upgrade transportation infrastructure to better withstand extreme weather and the effects of climate change. He said climate-related investments in the bill totaled about $18 billion, including $2.5 billion to build stations to charge and fuel electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles.

Carper also pointed to a program in the bill that would provide about $500 million for planning and construction grants to demolish or retrofit highways and other structures that carve through neighborhoods, creating physical or economic development barriers.

"It's a vital foundation for the president's American Jobs Plan," Carper said as he discussed the roads bill, using the name the administration has given to its infrastructure package.

Carper emphasized there is still plenty of work ahead for lawmakers to reauthorize the nation's surface transportation programs. The bill that the Environment and Public Works Committee approved only covers a portion of them. Transit and issues related to taxes and how to pay for the programs are handled by other committees. The House will also need to weigh in.

"This is not the end, but it's a good beginning," he said.

Capito said the bill would provide states flexibility and certainty by distributing 90% of total funding based on formulas. And she said she was particularly excited about a program that would provide $2 billion in grants over the five years to rural regions. She also noted provisions meant to speed up permitting and approval processes for projects.

"There is a lot in this bill for both sides and for all communities, no matter the size or region," she said.

Legislation Continues 'Broken System'

Transportation for America—a progressive group that advocates for prioritizing infrastructure maintenance over expansion, road safety over vehicle speed, and against road-building that supports sprawling development—sharply criticized the bill, saying that it "cements the broken status quo in place for decades."

"This bill attempts to solve the problems with the transportation system with small, underfunded new programs while spending way more to continue to churn out those same problems," the group's director, Beth Osborne, said in a statement. 

“This bill is far from a down payment on the American Jobs Plan. In many ways it completely undermines it," she added.

The National Association of City Transportation Officials also knocked the legislation in recent days, saying that while it contains some promising new provisions and programs, it falls short addressing concerns related to safety, equity and curbing emissions.

"At a moment when we need robust investment in safety, local streets, and transit, the bill preserves vast amounts of funding for highway expansion," Corinne Kisner, the group's executive director and Janette Sadik-Khan, its chair, said in a statement.

They also said the legislation would continue a "broken system" that cuts cities out of decision-making processes that affect their streets and residents. "By continuing to funnel most federal transportation dollars through State [departments of transportation], with no required input from cities, publicly funded projects will have no obligation to reflect local priorities," they said.

The National Association of Counties applauded the bill's passage out of committee on Wednesday, with executive director Matthew Chase saying in a statement that it “provides renewed optimism for a timely, bipartisan surface transportation reauthorization."

"We welcome this positive step towards addressing our nation’s very pressing transportation challenges," Chase added.

Bill Lucia is a senior editor for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.

FEATURED CASE STUDIES
Powered By The Atlas
Integrating Complete and Green Streets for Climate-Resilient Sustainable Streets
San Mateo County, CA, USA
Major improvements in Service issue resolution at St. Catharines Transit
2012 First Street Louth, St. Catharines, ON L2S 3V9, Canada
Quick Launch of Ferry Reservation System Provides Access for Point Roberts Residents During COVID-19
Bellingham, WA, USA

NEXT STORY: State and Local Leaders Form New Group to Tackle Broadband Gaps

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.