New Federal Transportation Law a Mixed Bag for Consumers

On December 4, 2015, President Obama signed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST) into law. It supplies long needed funds to correct longstanding problems. The Infrastructure Report Card uses a lighthearted approach to describe what that means. Infrastructurereportcard.org, a website sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America’s roads a “D” grade.

  • Forty-two percent of city highways are congested.
  • The federal government’s budget to repair roads is inadequate.
  • A $170 Billion annual investment is needed to improve this situation.
  • Transit earned a “D.” Rail and Bridges earned a “C+.”

Despite ongoing infrastructure problems, the FAST Act marks the first time in over a decade that a law has established long-term funding options for highways, transit lines, and other critical surface transportation projects. Department of Transportation Secretary, Anthony Foxx described efforts to get the law on the books as a “…bumpy ride.” It took hours of hearings before Congress, 43 state visits, and other efforts to earn the bipartisan support necessary to pass the bill.

The law will generate an 11 percent increase in funding over the next five years. That amount is far less than the hoped-for 45 percent increase. Still it will allow a mixed bag of benefits that the Secretary hopes will lay a foundation for future transportation in America. A Chicago trucking accident lawyer suggests that Illinois motorists, public transportation patrons, and city residents will become more aware of FAST Act benefits as critical highway and transit projects begin to improve connectivity and safety for local and regional transportation systems.

Improved transportation – improved safety

As a Chicago trucking accident lawyer will explain, road safety issues are a contributing factor to many major vehicle accidents. Road surfaces cause shifts in tractor trailer loads and result in vehicle imbalances, jackknifes, and losses of control. Unrepaired roads, train tracks, improperly placed bus stops and bicycle lanes, vehicle defects, hazardous cargoes and a range of other problems cause accidents as well. These and other issues are addressed in part by the extensive provisions of the FAST Act.

FAST basics

FAST is a blend of programs that will change the nation’s methods for funding, approving, and completing transportation projects. It involves five key elements, each with multiple layers. Here is a simple review of the basics.

Accelerating Projects

Speed is a major element of the FAST Act. The law has a variety of provisions designed to speed up project assessment and delivery for the most used forms of transportation and increase user flexibility with allocated funds. This portion of the act:

  • Extends the highway and public transportation environmental review process to rail and multimodal projects.
  • Includes the “Every Day Counts” program, which identifies new ideas, moves them forward quickly, and improves project delivery times and sustainability.
  • Establishes a public “Dashboard” so anyone may access project details, status, environmental reviews and funding.
  • Reduces duplicate reviews
  • Speeds up post-catastrophe environmental project reviews
  • National Multi-modal Freight Policy

Several FAST stipulations concentrate on moving freight safely and establishing national “multimodal” freight policies. The Freight Policy requires an implementation plan that sets a strategy for addressing conditions, performance, connectivity, and community impact of freight movement. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) must report on performance by the top 25 ports. The act promotes project speed from ground-breaking to conclusion with an emphasis on contracting practices, financing innovations, and funding.

  • A 4.5 million dollar discretionary fund will allow entities to apply for financing for projects that increase safety and improve freight traffic and movement.
  • A 6.3 billion National Highway Freight Program will fund other freight projects.

Innovative Finance Bureau

The FAST Act creates a National Surface Transportation and Innovative Finance bureau to help applicants through the Department of Transportation credit assistance process. It restructures existing programs and makes speed, efficiency, innovation, and transparency top priorities.

  • Cuts funding for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program but lowers the minimum project size.
  • Extends Railroad Rehabilitation Improvement Financing, to passenger rail station projects
  • Streamlines the DOT credit application process
  • IFB will work to improve project efficiency, timeliness, and public transparency

Highway, Rail, and Hazardous Materials Safety

  • Increases auto manufacturer’s maximum penalties for auto defects
  • Improves the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration’s ability to recall unsafe vehicles
  • Allows hazardous transit flexibility during emergencies
  • Prevents rental car companies from renting recalled vehicles

Increasing Transportation Choices and Opportunities

The act sets up a program to fund bus facilities, train employees, improve transportation opportunities for disabled and senior riders, and accomplish other ridership, community and safety goals. Employment training will include outreach to women, veterans, disabled individuals, and minorities.

FAST Act sets new standards for promoting public safety. As a Chicago trucking accident lawyer will explain, it gives governing agencies new guidelines and enforcement powers and should make transportation safer.