On June 29, 2012, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives both approved H.R. 4348, the Surface Transportation Conference Report. The bill, passed by votes of 373-52 in the House and 74-19 in the Senate, authorizes federal surface transportation spending programs through Sept. 30, 2014.
Although the new authorization achieves some NAR policy priorities by preserving overall funding levels for roads and transit, streamlining environmental review processes, and providing some long-term certainty, it contains several provisions that decrease local control and ability to fund local needs.
This includes a two-thirds reduction in funds set aside and accessible to local agencies for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and other projects that reduce congestion and enhance neighborhoods and property values. It reduces accountability on the part of state Departments of Transportation and eases requirements that they meet broad performance measures and prioritize the maintenance and repair of existing infrastructure.
Several provisions in the Senate bill supported by NAR were removed during the conference process, including a Complete Streets provision that would have required consideration of all modes and users during project planning.
The new authorization identified several temporary revenue offsets to bridge the anticipated gap between gas tax revenues and authorized spending levels, but puts off to the future a larger discussion about how to match revenues and spending going forward.
Linked to the base transportation components of the bill in the conference report were also a five-year authorization of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and extension of existing rates on student loans.
For more on the NFIP authorization, read about the 5-year extension of the program.