On Friday, December 4th, President Obama signed into law the“Fixing America’s Surface Transportation” or “FAST” Act, the first long-term transportation bill the U.S. has seen in ten years. The $305 billion, 5-year program comes as a welcome bi-partisan compromise, but as with any major piece of legislation, it comes with its fair share of controversy.
James Corless is the Director of Transportation for America (T4America). T4America is an alliance of elected, business and civic leaders from communities across the country, united to ensure that states and the federal government step up to invest in smart, homegrown, locally-driven transportation solutions.
The Good Side of the FAST Act
The first positive is it’s 5 years. It’s what the industry has said and the agencies have said that they’ve really needed for the last decade, which is some level of certainty, some stable funding…It maintains a basic sense that there are multiple modes, at least, that mass transit is pretty fully funded for all the transit agencies trying to plan big, complex projects…There is new flexibility on the federal loan program called TIFIA…And for the first time ever, since we’re big fans of multi-modal approaches, they’ve got passenger rail in the surface transportation bill.
A Bill to Maintain the Status Quo
…I think unfortunately we’ve come to a point in the U.S. and in Congress that infrastructure writ large is still somewhat a bipartisan issue—and I think this sort of cemented that for at least the next 5 years—but the type of infrastructure is not. So we’d like to see a more performance driven system where you invest in the projects that give you the biggest bang for the buck, and unfortunately I think we’re still going to be stuck in these kinds of 20th century silos for the next 5 years.
It’s Time For Transportation Policy to Evolve
…number one—it’s very important—the feds really don’t build it, they finance it. Two, it’s largely still a state-run program. States have important roles to play, but we think cities, metropolitan areas, other stakeholders, the local level, actually have a lot of great innovative ideas. They weren’t really part of this bill, frankly…all this bill does is really enable the states to continue their programs, which every state runs differently…
The Countdown to 2020
If we were sinking, if we didn’t know how to swim, somebody has just thrown us…another, a bigger life preserver now for 5 years. That life preserver won’t just slowly let its air out. It’s going to go “boom” in 2020. Because the cliff that we have created for ourselves, because this is not sustainably funded—it’s funded by a patchwork of all kinds of budget gimmicks—the cliff is going to be even bigger in 2020…So the work is not finished.