Senate EPW Committee Approves DRIVE Act
IBTTA Press Release (6-24-2015)
On June 24, 2015, the Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee unanimously (20-0) approved a bipartisan six-year surface transportation reauthorization bill entitled the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act.
The bill, would provide $278 billion for highway and bridge programs over six years, establish a new federally funded freight program and boost overall funding levels at an annual average of three percent.
The EPW package is just the first of four pieces needed for the measure to advance any further – the Senate Banking and Commerce Committees still have to produce the bill's transit and safety titles (expected in July) – and the Finance Committee must generate a revenue title to provide the funding – sources of which are proving elusive.
The legislation includes several toll related items – most significantly a revision to the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program (ISRRPP) – (originally authorized by the 1998 TEA-21 highway bill). This program allows three States an opportunity to convert an existing non-tolled Interstate highway into a tolled facility following major reconstruction – existing law already allows such conversions for Interstate bridges and tunnels. The three pilot slots are already occupied, by Virginia, Missouri and North Carolina – but in-state political issues make it very uncertain whether any of them will ever advance.
A technical oversight in the original legislation in 1998 was the omission of any method to clear a "slot" that was not advancing and allowing other States an opportunity to then participate in the pilot program. IBTTA has been working for several years to suggest improvements and has been working to build support with members of the Senate and House of Representatives to give States the flexibility to toll the Interstate System for the purpose of reconstruction and rehabilitation. IBTTA enlisted a number of major transportation groups to sign a letter supporting this provision of the DRIVE Act.
Section 1021 of the DRIVE Act would extend the ISRRPP for 10 years, and would vacate any occupied slot if a project isn't advertised for contract within a year, or a contract issued within two years. As part of the process to expand the use of tolling, IBTTA is pleased with the changes made today that preserve the pilot program in the face of opposition that argued for its deletion.
Another element of the DRIVE Act – Section 1209 – would establish a pilot program allowing up to 10 states to "sell" the soft match available to States for the toll facility capital expenditures. Current law allows any state to use the value of toll facility capital expenditures in that state as a credit against their share of funding on Federal-aid projects – for example, if a certain project calls for a 20 percent state contribution, the state can claim the value of capital construction costs by a toll operator in lieu of putting up state funds. In certain instances, the capital investment of toll operators exceeds the whole value of what a state may need for their anticipated projects. The DRIVE Act would create an office within USDOT to put a cash value on such "excess" credits and allow them to be sold to another state. While this is not a provision IBTTA advocated, we are pleased to see members of Congress recognize the utility and value in toll facilities.
A third toll specific element is contained in Section 1019 which would add language allowing private motorcoaches (i.e. commercial buses) access to a toll facility under the same rates, terms and conditions as public transportation buses in the State. Presumably, this would grant equal access for commercial carriers to any free or discounted bus passage programs your state or facility offers. This too is a provision we did not seek and will look closely at should the Senate measure actually advance.
For further information, contact IBTTA Government Affairs Director, Neil Gray.