Senate committee unveils draft highway bill

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Last week the Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee released its proposed highway bill, which would reauthorize the Federal-aid highway program at the baseline level – equal to current funding plus inflation – for six years. The proposal maintains current formulas and increases the highway funding amounts each state will receive each year. In addition to maintaining existing highway funding, the draft bill also authorizes new spending on a national freight program that would allow states to designate rural roads as critical freight corridors, especially if they provide access to grain elevators or “other regionally significant agricultural facilities.”

The freight highway proposal builds on a provision from the 2012 highway bill, calling for the designation of critical freight corridors. The EPW draft bill would fund the initiative with $400 million available to states beginning in 2016, and increasing it by $400 million each year until reaching $2 billion in 2020. If enacted and implemented, the new freight program would significantly increase federal funding for roads important to trucking commodities and freight.

The draft bill does not include an increase in truck weight limits, which is supported by ASA. Another highway bill priority for ASA is the continuation of the hours of service agricultural exemption. That issue is under the jurisdiction of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Transportation, rather than EPW, and the Commerce Committee has not yet acted on their portions of the bill. The EPW Committee is scheduled to markup the draft bill on Thursday. There is no timetable yet for consideration by the full Senate and the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee has not yet indicated their plans or timeline for action.

A summary released by the EPW Committee indicates that the freight program ”improves efforts to identify projects with a high return on investment through state freight plans and advisory committees” established under the 2012 law. Factors that would be considered in determining which road segments qualify include total cargo tonnage and cargo value, whether the miles close gaps in existing freight network segments and whether they provide first- or last-mile links to such facilities as ports, international crossings, rail yards, warehouses, grain elevators, energy production sites, airports or intermodal container transfer hubs.

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