April 30, 2019 marked the deadline for members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to submit their policy priorities to the Chair. In honor of this important stage in the committee process that collects the interests of districts across the nation, R Street respectfully recommends the following 10 pragmatic policy reforms that would positively affect infrastructure investment in every state.
Reform the material mandates that currently limit flexible and cost-effective construction to place emphasis on longevity and environmental performance instead of solely sanctioning the use of specific materials. Performance-based infrastructure procurement helps lower long-term costs and lets communities take advantage of new innovations in construction materials.
Reform federal permitting by making permanent the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council [FPISC] and the “FAST-41 Permitting Dashboard.” Additionally, FPISC eligibility should be expanded by giving the Council authority to serve as sponsor (or assign a sponsor) for all otherwise eligible projects, and the threshold for project cost eligibility should be lowered from $200 million to $100 million or less. Similarly, the agency should be granted more budget authority to prevent the need for the proposed $200,000 per project fee transfers from other agencies to cover FPISC costs.
Open the door for P3s to combat costs and engage in innovative broadband, power and water projects. By expanding the authority of federal entities to engage in P3 contracts, Congress can encourage agencies to be open to unsolicited requests for new projects, subject to established DOT best practices and oversight.
Call for the Federal Railroad Administration to allow automation of rail maintenance inspections, and promulgate rules to allow remote operation of freight locomotives. After positive train control, the next steps in making railroads safer are to make it cheap to frequently inspect tracks and reduce opportunities for human error.
Unleash the potential of America’s inland waterways by repealing the Jones Act for vehicles operating on the inland waterways system and passenger ferry boats. Allowing Americans to purchase vessels at world market prices can lower regional infrastructure costs. Additionally, costs can be further mitigated by raising the inland waterways fuel tax to increase Trust Fund solvency. These changes would be a win-win by increasing barge use to keep heavy, damaging loads off the interstates while also increasing ferry use to serve isolated communities, preventing the need for new roads and bridges.
Expand allowed services at interstate rest stops to include electronic vehicle (EV) and other alternative fueling stations, food establishments and other highway-oriented services. Currently banned from commercial development, this small modernization of interstate amenities would encourage diffusion of new fuel infrastructure while improving the safety and general quality of life for travelers.
Codify “dig once” provisions to coordinate new infrastructure construction and limit the long-term disruptions it causes. Local businesses and community centers suffer when streets are torn up for long periods. Dig once provisions are a commonsense solution that would help minimize the waste and economic damage that stems from poor public infrastructure management.
Remove the statutory cap on Private Activity Bond issuances to ensure the continued expansion of privately funded infrastructure. These bonds help level the playing field between public and private infrastructure when borrowing to build new roads and bridges. Removing the limit is a necessary step if America aims to encourage private investors to expand their role in financing the nation’s infrastructure.
Repeal the existing ban on interstate tolling to allow state-led toll-funded interstate reconstruction on all highways. The problem is clear: the interstates are at the end of their useful life and the Highway Trust Fund is insufficient to pay for their reconstruction. Universally allowed tolling would remedy the current inequality between states caused by toll ban exemptions for highways that meet certain criteria.
Transfer administration and approval of Army Corps of Engineers civil works to the Department of Transportation (DOT) to improve waterway management. Harbor dredging, inland waterways and flood control all have more in common with infrastructure administered by DOT than with military bases administered by the Department of Defense. DOT expertise in infrastructure economics could improve the nation’s waterway management.
For more information or to discuss any of the above policy recommendations, please do not hesitate to contact R Street Commercial Freedom Fellow Nick Zaiac at firstname.lastname@example.org or R Street Federal Affairs Manager Aubrey Neal at email@example.com.