What’s the Difference? GROW AMERICA Act vs. MAP-21 Reauthorization

The current federal transportation bill, MAP-21, is expiring soon, and our leaders in Washington have come up with two new bills to potentially replace it. Earlier last month, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee released its MAP-21 Reauthorization proposal, which was unanimously approved within just a few days. The other proposal is the GROW AMERICA Act, which the White House released in late April. As MAP-21 nears expiration, it’s important to understand some key differences between the two options currently on the table and what they would both mean for investments for sustainable transportation:

  • Overall amount and length:
    • GROW AMERICA Act (GAA): $302 billion — an increase of $87 billion over the current bill — and four years long
    • MAP-21 Reauthorization (M21R): Maintains current funding levels (plus inflation), six years long
  • Amount going to highways and roads:
    • GAA: $199 billion
    • M21R: $265 billion for highways and a highway-focused freight program
  • Amount going to transit:
    • GAA: $72 billion. Also funds the popular New Starts/Small Starts transit grant program from the Transportation Trust Fund (the proposal’s new name for the Highway Trust Fund), not from general revenues. The proposal creates a new grant program called the Rapid Growth Area Transit Program ($2 billion over four years).
    • M21R: Because the Senate EPW Committee is only responsible for the highway portion of national transportation funding, it is unknown what M21R has in store for transit, passenger rail and some other safety programs.

  • Amount going to freight:
    • GAA: $10 billion.
    • M21R: No funding for freight in 2015, $400 million in 2016, increasing every year to $2 billion in 2020. Freight is not viewed as multi-modal.
  • Amount going to passenger rail:
    • GAA: Creates a new rail account within the Transportation Trust Fund and dedicates $19 billion to passenger rail. Another $5 billion per year is available for rail programs that “improve connections between key regional city pairs and high traffic corridors.” Funding passenger rail through the transportation bill (as opposed to a separate passenger rail bill) is a welcome change, as it makes funding for passenger rail more predictable.
    • M21R: See “Amount going to transit” above
  • Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP), Congestion Mitigation & Air Quality (CMAQ), and Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP)
    • GAA:  $10.14 billion for HSIP, $9.55 billion for CMAQ and $3.446 billion for TAP
    • M21R: The Senate EPW MAP-21 Reauthorization Summary notes: “The existing consolidated core highway program structure from MAP-21 is maintained including: the National Highway Performance Program; the Highway Safety Improvement Program; the Surface Transportation Program; and the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program” and makes clear “Each core formula receives a proportionate increase in funding to support long-term state transportation investment plans.”  However, specific dollar amounts for highway programs were not found.
  • TIFIA:
    • GAA: $4 billion.
    • M21R: $1 billion per year. Also allows TIFIA financing for transit-oriented development (with a lower cost threshold).
  • TIGER:
    • GAA: $5 billion, more than double current amount, which is currently funded through a separate appropriations process, and not M21R.
    • M21R: TIGER is not in the bill (no change from current policy).
  • Other discretionary grant programs of note:
    • GAA: $4 billion for Fixing and Accelerating Surface Transportation (FAST), a competitive grant program to advance what DOT considers best practices.
    • M21R: Funds Projects of National or Regional Significance ($400 million per year from the Highway Trust Fund) and creates the American Transportation Award Program ($125 million per year). However, these funds would come from the general fund so they may not be appropriated.
  • Additional features:
    • GAA:
      • Establishes a federal Complete Streets policy and makes it federal policy for all projects to consider all modes of transportation;
      • Addresses environmental concerns including stormwater mitigation, climate change risks and green infrastructure;
      • Allows tolling on interstate highways for both funding their maintenance and for reducing or managing congestion. In addition, funds collected could be used for transit or environmental improvements.
    • M21R:
      • Allows for up to 15 percent of National Highway Performance Program funds to be spent on federal-aid highway bridges. This is an improvement from MAP-21, in which these bridges were only eligible for Surface Transportation Program funds, leaving maintenance work to compete with other projects funded by STP, like bike and pedestrian projects;
      • Includes performance measures that focus on motorized and non-motorized travelers as well as a number of positive bicycle and pedestrian measures, including a streamlined permitting process for small active transportation projects.
      • As a means of addressing the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund, requires USDOT to examine alternative funding mechanisms for the Highway Trust Fund.
  • Funding:
    • GAA: While not in the current bill, the GAA proposes to fund the additional $87 billion in the Highway Trust Fund with $150 billion from “pro-growth business tax reform.”
    • M21R: No funding is proposed as the Senate Finance Committee is responsible for funding.

What’s next for these bills? On the Senate side, the Senate Finance Committee; the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; and Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs must complete their work — identifying funding, developing the passenger rail and safety components and developing the transit components, respectively — before the bill can be considered on the floor. And notably, the House committees have yet to act as well. Meanwhile, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx continues to hit the road to promote the GROW AMERICA Act.

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