Huge Highway Bill Includes Safety, Trucking, Rail, Ex-Im Bank Provisions

December 3, 2015

U.S House and Senate lawmakers reached agreement on Tuesday on a $305 billion, five-year transportation bill that would revive the politically embattled Export-Import Bank while funding roads, bridges and mass transit.

The legislation, which has support from leading Republicans and Democrats, is expected to reach the floor of each chamber by Friday, when a short-term funding measure runs out. If approved and signed into law by President Barack Obama, it would be the first U.S. highway measure in a decade to last longer than two years.

The legislation would renew the Ex-Im Bank’s charter through Sept. 30, 2019, with some reforms attached, months after it expired on June 30 in the face of conservative opposition. The measure to revive the bank, which helps Boeing Co. and other companies with foreign competitors, has wide support in Congress.

The transportation bill falls short of the six-year, $480 billion package the Obama administration proposed earlier this year as a step toward reversing the deterioration of U.S. infrastructure and accommodating economic and population growth.

The five-year measure, dubbed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act or FAST Act, would be the first long-term highway bill in a decade, and according to the Congressional Budget Office, would spend $280 billion on roads, bridges and mass-transit projects.

The bill contains a long list of non-infrastructure provisions that were the target of intense lobbying by interest groups for the transportation industry and public safety advocates. Following is a list of non-infrastructure provisions that would:

  • increase to $105 million from $35 million the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s maximum penalty cap for automakers and other manufacturers that violate vehicle safety laws;
  • extend the timeline for automakers to maintain safety records to 10 years from five years;
  • require rental car companies and auto dealers with fleets of 35 vehicles or more to repair safety defects before providing the vehicles to consumers;
  • require the U.S. Transportation Department to establish travel corridors along major national highways for electric, natural gas and propane vehicles and set goals for developing alternative-fueling stations and other infrastructure;
  • create a pilot program allowing drivers as young as 18 to drive commercial trucks and buses across state lines but restrict the waiver, from a current age limit of 21, to veterans who received driver training during their military service;
  • order the reform of a federal safety monitoring system for commercial trucks and buses and remove safety scores for trucking companies from public view;
  • allow commercial motor carriers to test for controlled substances using a driver’s hair, as an alternative to urine, and direct the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop scientific and technical guidelines for hair testing;
  • raise the passenger rail liability cap to $295 million from a current $200 million, apply the increase to the May 12 Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia and adjust the cap for inflation in each of the bill’s five years;
  • require increased thermal blanket protection for tank cars carrying flammable liquids including crude oil;
  • streamline environmental and historic reservation reviews to accelerate rail projects.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Andrew Hay)

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