U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx

If enacted, the Generating Renewal, Opportunity and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America (GROW AMERICA) Act  would:

  • Provide $302 billion over four years for roads, bridges, public transportation, and rail programs
  • Wipe out the potential bankruptcy of the Highway Trust Fund, which the U.S. DOT predicts could happen by August and cost 700,000 jobs

“It’ll support millions of jobs by modernizing roads and bridges and ensure businesses can compete in the global economy,” says the Association for the Improvement of American Infrastructure, a non-profit formed to grow the public-private partnership marketplace. Not surprisingly, the organization’s particularly pleased with expanded financing mechanisms:

  • $4 billion for the credit-assistance Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program that’s expected to support $40 billion in loans
  • $5 billion for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grants, twice previous levels
  • Raises the cap on Private Activity Bonds (PABs) from $15 billion to $19 billion.

OTHER EXISTING PROGRAM INCREASES

In addition to expanding highway funding to “green stormwater infrastructure activities” and building on MAP-21’s project-streamlining initiatives, the package addresses 12 critical needs (click here for a list) including …

  • Highways and safety: $199 billion, 22% more than fiscal year 2014 (FY2014)
  • Transit: $72 billion, a 70% increase. Capital Improvement Grants are funded at $11 billion.
  • Bus and rail improvements: $20 billion more than previous levels

NEW PROGRAMS

The package’s “Fix-it-First” philosophy prioritizes road and transit investment in rural and tribal areas and attempts to give local governments more control over how they spend their federal dollars.

  • $4 billion: Modeled after the Department of Education’s Race to the Top program, competitive Fixing and Accelerating Surface Transportation (FAST) grants to states, tribes, and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs). “Metropolitan regions are the engines of our economy, yet only 8% of core federal-aid highway funds are under local control,” says Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in this blog. “Our proposal gives high-performing MPOs more control, a larger share of federal funding.”

Those MPOs will also receive greater Surface Transportation Program (STP) and Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) suballocations.

$10 billion: two multimodal freight grant programs for innovative rail, highway, and port projects

Click here for a GROW AMERICA fact sheet.

SLEIGHT OF HAND?

According to the administration, the package provides $87 billion more over four years than what would be spent if the bill maintained current program levels.

But critics say it pays for all this with two unrealistic funding measures, as Washington Letter on Transportation Editor Gary Hoitsma explained in a May 5 blog.

  • A one-time $150 billion cash infusion by reforming the corporate tax code. But, says Hoitsma, because the bill contains no reform language, generating that revenue is “nothing less than pie-in-the-sky territory in the current political and legislative environment.”
  • Lifting the ban that keeps states from collecting tolls on interstate highways, a wonky move called devolution. In theory, states could invest toll revenue in repair and rehabilitation. In reality, Hoitsma says, it would “pit fiscally-strapped transportation agencies against widespread public sentiment – and expectations – against such tolls.”

Click here for a 100-page section-by-section analysis of the bill.