The long-disputed federal transportation bill has finally been passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President, after compromise from both sides of the aisle. Republicans dropped provisions that would have sped up approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and one that would have loosened restrictions on coal ash. Democrats gave up restrictions on the land and water conservation fund.
The two-year Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) bill reauthorizes and funds the Highway Trust Fund, enabling more than $100 billion to be spent on roads, bridges, mass transit, and other transportation programs until September 2014. Bike and pedestrian paths will now compete against other transportation projects for funding.
For the paving materials industry, there is good news and bad news. A pavement technologies program included in the new bill will boost the adoption of evolving asphalt techniques, such as warm-mix asphalt, reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP), and use of other recycled materials. However, language that would prevent the U.S. EPA from regulating coal ash as hazardous waste was cut from the final bill- a potential blow to the concrete industry's reliance on fly ash as a recycled material.
The bill limits environmental reviews of transportation projects, to expedite construction timelines. To give states more flexibility, the bill consolidates federal transportation programs and allows 50% of Transportation Enhancements funding for construction projects. “States will be given the opportunity to opt out of burdensome requirements to spend money on planting roadside flowers if they decide they need to invest more gas tax funds on improving roads and bridges,” explains Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica.
“This bill will provide a major boost to our economy by putting Americans back to work building our nation's bridges and highways,” says Mica. Reportedly, the bill could create more than three million jobs.
The bill includes many safety initiatives, including new requirements for buses, including mandates that all new passenger carriers undergo a safety review no later than 120 days after receiving operating authority, giving departments of transportations the ability to impound commercial vehicles regarded as an imminent hazard to public safety, as well as state grants to curb distracted driving. Congress also tacked on measures that will prevent student loan interest rates from doubling in the next year, and renew federal flood insurance programs.