SAFETEA-LU provides record investment in state, local transportation programs

Jim Fahey
Director of Government Affairs
APWA Washington office

On August 10 in Montgomery, IL, just outside Chicago, President George W. Bush signed into law a bill authorizing the largest investment in surface transportation in the nation's history.

The signing ceremony, which featured congressional leaders, Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta, and state and local officials, capped a nearly two-year effort in Congress to rewrite TEA-21, which expired on September 30, 2003. During that time Congress passed 12 temporary extensions of the expired law to keep federal funds flowing to state and local transportation programs.

The much anticipated Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) provides $286.4 billion in guaranteed funding for federal highway, public transportation and safety programs through September 30, 2009. The new act represents a 38 percent funding increase over its predecessor, and each state is guaranteed to receive no less than a 19 percent increase in total funding, as compared to TEA-21.

For the years 2005 to 2009, SAFETEA-LU provides $198.8 billion for highways and bridges, $45.3 billion for public transportation and $5.7 billion for motor carrier and transportation safety programs. Highway funding will grow from $34.4 billion in 2005 to $41.2 billion in 2009, while transit funding will rise from $7.6 billion in 2005 to $10.3 billion in 2009.

To address the concerns of donor states—states which contribute more in motor fuel tax revenues to the Federal Highway Trust Fund than they receive in return for highway programs—SAFETEA-LU boosts each state's current minimum return of 90.5 to 92 percent by 2008. The rate of return will remain 90.5 percent in 2005 and 2006, then rise to 91 percent in 2007 and reach the level of 92 percent in 2008 and 2009.

The new act includes more than $14.8 billion for some 5,091 high-priority project earmarks. In addition, 25 projects totaling approximately $1.8 billion are authorized under the Projects of National and Regional Significance program designed to help states pay for high-cost highway projects with national or regional benefits.

Reauthorization of TEA-21 was a top priority for APWA, and SAFETEA-LU reflects several key priorities advocated by the association. It retains the basic goals and structure of TEA-21, with its enhanced role for local decision-making and its important emphasis on flexibility, intermodal goals and on addressing local and regional needs.

SAFETEA-LU also continues guaranteed funding for transportation programs and retains a "funding firewall" to ensure that transportation revenues are spent only on transportation programs, both a priority for APWA. It also includes a number of provisions to streamline the environmental review and project delivery process, another key priority. For instance, it sets a 180-day statute of limitation on legal challenges to project permits and environmental reviews and clarifies transportation agencies' lead role in determining project purpose and need.

SAFETEA-LU places an important emphasis on addressing safety needs. Key provisions include the establishment of the $5.1 billion Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP), a new core program. HSIP includes a $90-million annual set-aside for high risk rural road safety needs, an important priority for rural communities. SAFETEA-LU also establishes a new $612-million Safe Routes to School program to fund projects to allow children to walk and bike safely to school.

In the area of infrastructure financing, SAFETEA-LU extends authority to all 50 states and the District of Columbia to establish State Infrastructure Banks, revolving funds eligible to be capitalized with federal transportation funds, and it provides $15 billion in private activity bonding authority for certain highway projects. In addition, it calls for the creation of a National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission to examine the future of highway trust fund revenues and consider alternative approaches to generating revenues. The Commission will have two years to prepare and submit a report to Congress and the Secretary of Transportation.

To assist with the growing needs of metropolitan planning organizations, SAFETEA-LU increases the metropolitan planning take-down from one percent to 1.25 percent. For off-system bridge needs, it removes the Highway Bridge Program's 35 percent cap on the set-aside for off-system bridges—bridges not on the federal-aid system—although it does not raise the current minimum set-aside of 15 percent.

With enactment of new legislation, the process of implementing its many programs and provisions is underway. Technical corrections legislation is expected to be taken up in Congress this fall to address drafting and other errors in the law.

APWA's TEA-21 Reauthorization Task Force spearheaded the association's reauthorization advocacy for more than four years. The Task Force is chaired by Don LaBelle, and its members included Marshall Elizer, Jerry Fay, Bruce Florquist, John German, John Herzke, Ed Laudenslager, Milton Mitchell, John Okamoto, Richard Storm and Lance Wilber.

More information about SAFETEA-LU, including text of the bill, is available on APWA's website, www.apwa.net/advocacy, under the SAFETEA-LU Links section. Additional information will continue to be posted there as it becomes available.

Jim Fahey can be reached at (202) 218-6730 or jfahey@apwa.net.

APWA members attend signing of transportation bill

Joel Koenig
Senior Project Manager
Crawford, Murphy & Tilly
Aurora, Illinois
President, Chicago Metro Chapter

On Wednesday, August 10, 2005, President George W. Bush traveled to the Caterpillar plant just outside Aurora, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago, to sign the new transportation bill known as SAFETEA-LU. The new law will fund $286.4 billion worth of roadway, bridge and transit projects over a six-year period.

President Bush reportedly selected this location as it is within Speaker of the House of Representatives J. Dennis Hastert's congressional district. Speaker Hastert worked closely with both sides of the congressional aisle to craft a bill that the President was willing to sign. The site is also a production facility for Caterpillar, one of the largest manufacturers of construction equipment used in road and bridge building.

The President traveled from his ranch in Crawford, Texas to sign the bill into law. Joining President Bush and Speaker Hastert on stage were most of the Illinois House members, Illinois Senators Barak Obama and Richard J. Durbin, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta, along with several other Senators and House members from throughout the United States. Also in the audience were Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley and Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich. In his remarks, the President praised Mayor Daley as "a great mayor of a great city."

Joining me in the audience that day from the Chicago Metro Chapter was House of Delegates Representative Ed Laudenslager. Ed served on APWA's TEA-21 Reauthorization Task Force which, leading up to the signing of SAFETEA-LU, advocated APWA's reauthorization priorities. Many thanks for arranging our invitations go to Jim Fahey of APWA's Washington office. Jim is APWA's Director of Government Affairs and worked with Speaker Hastert's office to arrange for the ticket to this event.

As would be expected with any presidential visit, security was evident and well established, but the President still took time to shake the hands of many of the visitors. Governor Blagojevich, Mayor Daley and the other elected officials were also seen interacting with those in the crowd by shaking hands, conversing and posing for pictures.

The folks at Caterpillar deserve a thank-you for being our host that day. They took good care of us by providing parking and plenty of ice water to keep us cool in the hot sun, and by being a good supporter of the President's visit. Caterpillar is a large presence in public works construction sites and can frequently be seen as an exhibitor at APWA events.

Joel Koenig can be reached at (630) 820-1022 or jkoenig@cmtengr.com.