With little time to spare, President Obama signed into law a five year $305 Billion transportation funding bill late last week. (See DOT press release). Many in the industry are relieved that Congress has now implemented a long term spending package after years of short-term fixes, but without an increase in the gas tax rate, it is hard to view the FAST (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act as a complete solution.
In order to generate bi-partisan support, the FAST Act includes a bit of something for everyone. Amtrak received $10 billion in funding and the ability to invest more heavily in its popular and profitable Northeast corridor service. Drivers and truckers now have a five year guaranteed source of funding for highway and bridge infrastructure projects to help repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. The commuter railroads will benefit from $199 million in funding to help defray some of the cost of implementing positive train control. Finally, the freight railroads will benefit from increased funding for critical infrastructure projects and a streamlined RRIF (Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing) loan process that should make it easier to obtain federal funds to support their own infrastructure initiatives.
Sadly, $305 Billion will not be enough to meet all of our infrastructure needs, particularly when the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that one in nine of all U.S. bridges are structurally deficient. At least it is a start.