Republicans unveiled a $400 billion, five-year reauthorization of surface transportation programs that emphasizes bridge repair and speeding up the timeline for approving infrastructure projects.
The Surface Transportation Advanced through Reform, Technology, & Efficient Review (STARTER) Act 2.0, crafted by Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, contains most of the provisions included in the STARTER Act proposed by Republicans in 2020.
Democrats plan to release details of their own long-term highway bill proposal in the coming weeks. The bills would reauthorize the $305 billion Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act — the FAST Act — which was extended for one year in 2020 and is set to expire on Sept. 30.
“Our bill focuses on the core infrastructure that helps move people and goods through our communities every single day, cuts red tape that holds up project construction, and gets resources into the hands of our states and locals with as few strings attached as possible,” said Sam Graves, R-Missouri, the committee’s ranking member.
The bill sets aside $23 billion over five years for a bridge rebuilding program — a program not included in last year’s version. The program provides funding “via a competitive grant program to focus on large bridges with an emphasis on improving condition and reliability of bridges,” according to a summary statement. It includes a short-term funding infusion to address prior underinvestment “and help bring the nation’s off-system bridges into a state of good repair.”
The bill also would eliminate certain bridge funding requirements to give states more flexibility in bundling bridge projects as well as funding flexibility for a wider range of bridge-related maintenance activities such as inspection and evaluation.
The additional attention paid to bridges in the Republican bill reflects a similar focus in the Biden administration’s infrastructure package. The American Jobs Plan includes provisions to repair 10,000 bridges around the country, with an emphasis on repairing 10 of the most economically significant bridges that need major work.
According to U.S. Department of Transportation data, less than 44% of the 618,456 highway bridges in the U.S. are rated in good condition, and more than 45,000 bridges are rated in poor condition. Underscoring the problem is the Interstate 40 bridge over the Mississippi River near Memphis, Tennessee, which will remain closed for several weeks due to a fractured support beam. The shutdown has caused delays.
“We don’t have to use our imagination to understand why bridges are important and why they need to be in good repair,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said last week after the bridge was shut down. “There are examples all around us.”
As with last year’s version, STARTER 2.0 sets a governmentwide goal of limiting the time required for environmental reviews and approvals for major infrastructure projects to two years from the publication of an initial notice to the issuing of a final decision.
Trucking-specific proposals within the bill also remain unchanged. They include set-aside funding for additional truck parking capacity, a training program for CDL drivers ages 18-20 (who are currently not allowed to haul freight interstate), and loosening hours-of-service regulations for agriculture haulers.
In addition, the bill would also create a national pilot program to test vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) reporting systems and revenue collection, and would also put in place a VMT user fee for government-owned vehicles by October 2026.