HUNTINGTON - A transportation infrastructure bill moving through the U.S. Senate will pair nicely with West Virginia's Roads to Prosperity program, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said on July 30.
America's Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019 passed out of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee 21-0. It is the largest amount of funding provided for highway reauthorization legislation in history, authorizing $287 billion from the Highway Trust Fund over five years in investments to maintain and repair America's roads and bridges. Most of the $287 billion will be distributed to the states through a funding formula. Capito, chairwoman of the EPW Committee's Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, said in a press call with reporters that states will have maximum flexibility to use the funding for what they deem is most important and provides a level of certainty state transportation departments desperately need.
The five-year funding level is more than a 27% increase above what was provided in the FAST Act, the most recent federal highway funding program.
"As you know, each federal project needs an 80-20% match, so states need to come up with 20% of the match," Capito said. "With the governor's Roads to Prosperity program, West Virginia will already have sufficient dollars to meet that match, which will help him maximize his ability to move Roads to Prosperity projects along. Some states struggle to make that match."
The bill also streamlines the federal project approval process, including a two-year goal for completion of environmental reviews; a 90-day timeline for related project authorizations; a single environmental document and record of decision to be signed by all participating agencies; and an accountability and tracking system managed by the secretary of transportation.
Capito said she hopes this will reduce transportation costs and timelines by not keeping states trapped in "regulatory purgatory."
Also included in the bill is $6 billion over five years, including $3.3 billion from the Highway Trust Fund, for a competitive bridge program to address the backlog of bridges in poor condition nationwide.
Capito said she also pushed for $20 million for broadband infrastructure.
The biggest hurdle the bill faces is finding funding, Capito said. With the increase of Americans using hybrid and electric vehicles, federal gas tax revenue is declining, she said.
"Finance has to come up with a way to pay for this," Capito said. "There are ideas out there, like a vehicle miles fee, where if you use the roads heavily you pay more for the use. There is also talk of a fee on electric vehicles, which are using the roads but not paying to use them because they don't use gasoline. The pay-for will be an issue. I believe it needs to be totally paid for."
Capito said the good thing is she doesn't anticipate the actual infrastructure bill to be a partisan issue.
"I think we can get there - we do it all the time," she said.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said in a statement on July 30 he just received the bill and he was reviewing it, but so far there seemed to be many provisions he would support.
"When I was a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, I worked hard to ensure that we passed the FAST Act, the first federal law in over a decade to provide long-term funding certainty for surface transportation infrastructure planning and investment. I'm glad that Sen. Capito and the rest of the EPW Committee have introduced and passed their portion of the reauthorization bill, but this is the beginning of a long process that will require action in multiple committees," he said.
Capito said she and others have spoken with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about the bill, which includes three bills McConnell, along with Capito, introduced last week. She said she has hopes it will see some floor time this fall. She also hopes this bill will urge the House of Representatives to begin moving its transportation bill.