Obama Administration Sends Transportation Bill to Congress

The Obama administration today sent Congress its proposal for a multi-year transportation bill, which it’s calling the GROW AMERICA Act. The bill, based on the budget proposal President Obama released two months ago, relies on corporate tax reform to raise $87 billion to fill the hole in the Highway Trust Fund. The four-year bill would cost $302 billion.

Sec. Anthony Foxx sent a transportation bill to Congress today. Photo: ##http://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/blog/queen_city_agenda/2013/02/anthony-foxx-jerry-orr-share-a-happy.html?page=all##Nancy Pierce, Charlotte Business Journal##

Sec. Anthony Foxx sent a transportation bill to Congress today. Photo: Nancy Pierce/Charlotte Business Journal

It’s the first time Obama has sent Congress a transportation proposal. He received some criticism for not doing so before the current transportation authorization, MAP-21, passed.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the bill’s submission to Congress in a phone call today with reporters. Foxx recently wrapped up an eight-state bus tour, in which he talked to people about the infrastructure needs where they live.

“Failing to act before the Highway Trust Fund runs out is unacceptable — and unaffordable,” said Foxx. ”This proposal offers the kind of job creation and certainty that the American people want and deserve.”

The bill  includes $206 billion for the highway system and road safety over its four year duration, and transit gets $72 billion. That brings the current 80-20 ration for highways and transit to something closer to 75-25. Rail — a new addition to the transportation bill – gets $19 billion, including nearly $5 billion annually for high-speed rail. The proposal also sets aside $9 billion for discretionary, competitive funding, including $5 billion for the popular TIGER grant project.

Foxx noted that he has been “pleased” that members of Congress have already been working in a bipartisan fashion to craft a bill and that he looks forward to “supporting and building on the good work that’s already been done.”

Reporters on the call were most interested in the increased authority the administration seeks for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in investigating and penalizing automakers who fail to act quickly on vehicle recalls. The administration seeks to increase civil penalty limits nearly tenfold, to $300 million, so that they would be “more than a rounding error” in the company’s bottom lines.

Foxx also emphasized the bill’s focus on speeding up transportation projects by reducing project approval and permitting timelines.

Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo also notes that the GROW AMERICA Act places rail into the transportation trust fund, providing rail “with a predictable, dedicated funding source and the tools needed to drive the next generation of rail safety and development.” Rail has historically been paid for out of general funds leading to persistent fights in Congress over annual appropriations.

Rep. Nick Rahall, the top Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, praised Foxx for laying down a “marker” recognizing the need for greater investment in transportation, calling the funding levels “laudable.”

“There are some in this Congress that are happy with the status quo when it comes to investing in our nation’s infrastructure,” Rahall said. “I am not one of them.”

U.S. DOT notes that “without additional investment, deficiencies in our nation’s infrastructure will cost businesses more than $1 trillion every year in lost sales,” and yet despite the urgency, the Highway Trust Fund is “on track to start bouncing checks as early as August.” 

You can download a summary of the bill [PDF] and the full text [PDF]. We’ll bring you more analysis as we go through the bill.