In December 2015, Congress passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, a five-year bill to fund our nation’s highway, rail, and transit systems paid for with $305 billion from the Federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF).  The FAST Act builds upon major reforms established through its predecessor bill, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), and advances significant policy changes RCRC has advocated for over the last several years.  

Specifically, the FAST Act provides increased funding for local and regional transportation priorities as well as increased bridge funding.  The FAST Act also makes meaningful reforms to the environmental planning and review process. 

Key issues of importance to California’s rural counties are highlighted below.

Surface Transportation Program: The FAST Act increases funding for the new Surface Transportation Block Grant Program (STBGP), and, just as importantly, increases the share that will be directed to local jurisdictions from 50 to 55 percent over the life of the Fast Act.  The Transportation Alternatives Program and Recreational Trails programs are now contained into the STBGP and receive dedicated funding to support active transportation and trail projects.  In total, the FAST Act provides roughly $58.3 billion nationwide over the five years to fund a variety of state and local transportation projects, including bridges, alternative transportation, and recreational trails.  Early estimates anticipate roughly $28 billion being directly sub-allocated to local agencies across the country.

Bridge Funding: While the Senate had proposed funding off-system bridges off the-top of STP, which would have reduced the local STP share, the FAST Act preserves the requirement that off-system bridges be funded from the state share. This provision will ensure that the 5 percent increase in the local STP share materializes. Additionally, the FAST Act restores the 30 percent reduction in bridge funding established through MAP-21 and makes local on-system bridges eligible for funding under the National Highway Performance Program.

Rural Road Safety: Despite having included provisions to address rural road safety in both the Senate and House surface transportation bills, the FAST Act has no new provisions for addressing fatality rates on rural roadways.  However, the provision established in MAP-21 that requires states to invest in safety projects if fatality rates increase remains intact.

Project Delivery: The FAST Act establishes a new pilot program that enables states with environmental laws and regulations more stringent than the National Environmental Policy Act to rely on those state laws.  Although California participates in a similar program, FAST Act reforms will further expedite and streamline the planning and delivery of transportation projects.

Road User Charge: The FAST Act makes a $95 million investment to states and/or a consortium of states to study alternative user-based transportation funding mechanisms, including $15 million for Fiscal Year 2016 and $20 million for each Fiscal Years 2017 through 2020.  We anticipate these funds will help offset the cost for states like California and Oregon who are taking action to study and implement an alternative transportation funding mechanism commonly referred to as a road user charge based on vehicle miles traveled.

The HTF is the nation’s primary source of transportation funding, with approximately $50 billion annually going to support highways, public transportation, and passenger rail transportation systems supported through MAP-21.  The HTF is funded through federal taxes on gasoline and diesel, which have been in a steady decline over the years as automakers have increased vehicle fuel efficiency, and drivers have reduced driving.  

RCRC works with state and federal transportation stakeholders, including the National Association of Counties (NACo), to advocate for the surface transportation program.  As a part of these legislative efforts, RCRC will continue to seek dedicated funding for high-risk rural roads.

RCRC supports an increased focus on maintenance, preservation, and safety of the existing transportation system, while recognizing the unique challenges facing rural America, and policies that strengthen California’s rural transportation system.

Learn more about RCRC’s state-related transportation issues here.

Staff:  Paul A. Smith