Transporting a Nation toward Stability: The FAST Act of 2015

On December 4, 2015 President Obama signed into law the $305 billion Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. This act reauthorized the federal highway and public transportation programs for fiscal years (FY) 2016-2020 and stabilized the Highway Trust Fund during this five-year period. What is significant about this legislation is that it is the first transportation bill with a duration greater than two years since 2005. Since that time, there have been more than a dozen short-term patches to transportation funding, which have made it difficult for state and local governments to plan crucial projects. The FAST Act injects sorely needed investments into the nation’s deteriorated highways, transit systems, and infrastructure and provides states and the private sector the stability in funding needed to extend their planning horizon.

Highway

Winners of the FAST Act

This transportation investment will support two new initiatives — a $6.3 billion formula-based National Freight Program and a $4.5 billion competitive grant program for Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects. This will focus federal aid on highways and associated multi-modal facilities regarded as important “freight corridors” in an effort to reduce major bottlenecks and speed the delivery of goods. Other winners of the FAST Act include:

Highways
  • $225 billion for federal highway programs (an increase of 15-percent above current funding levels)
  • Under the FAST Act, highway investment will jump by 5.1-percent in FY 2016 and then slow to rates of growth between 2.1 and 2.4-percent for the remainder of the bill
  • The FAST Act prioritizes bridges and large nationally important facilities and shifts additional revenue towards the Interstate System and the National Highway System to address the significant maintenance backlog on those facilities
Transit
  • $61 billion is for transit programs (an increase of 18-percent above current funding levels)
Rail
  • The FAST Act authorizes $10 billion over five years for AMTRAK and allows the Northeast Corridor to retain the profits it generates within the corridor for much needed infrastructure improvements
States
  • The FAST Act encourages states to bundle two or more bridge projects together to attract more interest from bidders and private investment which lends itself well to design-build and P3 projects

Bridge

Expediting and Accountability

The Fast Act also provides for more efficient and transparent environmental reviews and expands the use of categorical exclusions for multi-modal projects, which should greatly accelerate the environmental review process. Another benefit is that the FAST Act also requires Departments of Transportation (DOTs) to produce a report annually on the costs and benefits of deploying new technologies and innovations that provide cost and time savings. This will be a great boon to future projects as this practice will outline best practices for stakeholders.

Unfortunately, one thing that the FAST Act doesn’t do is provide a long-term stable funding solution for the Highway Trust Fund. Because the FAST Act doesn’t identify new revenue sources beyond the current 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax, Congress predicts a shortfall of $100 billion to fund the next five-year authorization from FY 2021 through FY 2025. In recognition of the need to identify alternative transportation funding approaches, however, the FAST Act establishes a new $95 million grant program eligible to states that experiment with alternative transportation user fees such as road-use fees based on vehicle miles traveled.

Transportation Translation: What this Means for our Clients

Within Dewberry, transportation is one of the more significant market sectors that we serve, a market in which we have a vast depth of resources, strong subject matter experts, and expertise in all forms of contract delivery from design-bid-build to design-build and P3. What the FAST Act means for Dewberry is increased opportunity as our traditional transportation clients; state and local DOTs, transportation and port authorities, transit agencies, freight rail carriers and design builders; expand their programs to capitalize on this source of stable federal funding. We will be ready to guide our clients throughout every stage of the planning and implementation process to enable our clients to make the best long-term transportation investments possible given this window of opportunity.

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  • Gary Neuwerth
    Gary Neuwerth
  • Rachel Vandenberg
    Rachel Vandenberg
 
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