On December 4, 2015, President Barack Obama signed into law the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act that authorizes Federal highway, highway safety, transit, and rail programs for five years from Federal fiscal years 2016 through 2020.
The FAST Act represents the first long-term comprehensive surface transportation legislation since the Safe Accountable Flexible Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) Act in 2005. The FAST Act authorizes $305 billion from both the Highway Trust Fund and the General Fund of the United States Treasury. It provides $225 billion in Highway Trust Fund contract authority over five years for the Federal-aid Highway Program, increasing funding from $41 billion in 2015 to $47 billion in 2020.
The bill continues to distribute nearly 93 percent of all Federal-aid Highway program contract authority to State departments of transportation (DOTs) through formula programs. The bill places major emphasis on freight investments to be supported by the Highway Trust Fund by creating a new National Highway Freight Program funded at an average of $1.2 billion per year and distributed to the States by formula. In addition, a new discretionary program entitled the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects is established, funded at an average of $900 million per year. Under the renamed Surface Transportation Block Grant Program, the FAST Act gradually increases the percentage of the grant funds that are suballocated by population from 51 percent in 2016 to 55 percent by 2020. It also includes a $7.6 billion rescission of unobligated Federal-aid Highway contract authority in FY 2020.
The FAST Act provides $61 billion over five years for Federal transit programs including $49 billion in Highway Trust Fund contract authority and $12 billion in authorizations from the Genderal Fund. For highway safety, the bill provides a total of $4.7 billion for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ($3.7 billion from the Highway Trust Fund) and $3.2 billion for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Unlike past highway and transit bills, the FAST Act also authorizes $10 billion of the General Fund over five years for the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak.
Project Delivery Provisions
The project delivery provisions in the FAST Act contain many measures to streamline project delivery. The provisions include the following:
- Expands the multimodal categorical exclusion established in MAP-21 to allow any DOT operating administration to use a categorical exclusion of another operating administration.
- Directs the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) to apply the environmental streamlining measures in 23 USC 139 to rail projects when conducting a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis, to the greatest extent feasible.
- Requires USDOT to propose new categorical exclusions for railroad projects.
- Requires annual indexing of the financial thresholds for the categorical exclusion for projects with limited Federal assistance, in accordance with the consumer price index.
- Amends the Federal audit process for States that have Federal NEPA assignments to ease the burden on States, and gives States more input in the audit process.
- Establishes a pilot program for States with NEPA assignments to substitute their State environmental review law(s) for NEPA.
- Improves the process for carrying planning level decisions forward into the NEPA process and expands the decisions that may be carried forward. However, requires the concurrence of cooperating agencies if the planning product is “necessary for a cooperating agency to issue a permit, review, or approval for the project.”
- Requires “early concurrence or issue resolution” during the scoping process on purpose and need, and the range of alternatives to analyze in the environmental review process, compared to current law that calls only for “an opportunity for involvement.”
- Requires lead agencies to establish project schedules for environmental impact statements and environmental assessments after consultation with and the concurrence of each participating agency for the project; currently, project schedules are not required.
A more detailed explanation of the act and its provisions is provided in AASHTO’s Comprehensive Summary located on AASHTO’s FAST Act website portal. The portal provides a one-stop resource for Federal surface transportation reauthorization and implementation materials. The portal also provides a monthly FAST/MAP-21 Implementation Plan Update and Surface Transportation Rulemaking Tracker.
Additional information also is available on the Federal Highway Administration’s FAST Act web page and the U.S. DOT FAST Act page.