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Democrats’ $500 billion infrastructure bill clears committee

June 22, 2020
Despite GOP objections, the INVEST in America Act aims to fix failing U.S. roads and bridges while also incentivizing lower emissions, more truck safety, parking and studies.

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) pushed forward with a five-year, $494 billion funding package that would invest in highways and push for more commercial vehicle safety measures.

The Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in America) Act includes items to increase and study the safety of commercial vehicles and drivers. From studies on driver detention to grant money to improve truck parking across the country, the bill creates new task forces to look at trucking and other commercial transportation.

The committee spent more than 24 hours debating the legislation last week — adopting 34 Republican and 23 Democrat amendments. The INVEST in America Act, which was approved along party lines, aims to modernize commercial and passenger transportation initiatives with an eye on climate change. 

The T&I Committee’s bill will be rolled into a larger spending package to address roads, education, the environment, housing, rural broadband and more. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the $1.5 trillion package the Moving America Forward Act, which she expects to pass the House before its July 4 recess. 

“For far too long, Congress has taken a pass on trying to solve the toughest problems plaguing our surface transportation system, allowing it to limp along and fall farther and farther behind the rest of the world,” Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said. “That all changes with the INVEST in America Act, transformational legislation that moves our country into a new era of smarter, safer, more resilient infrastructure that fits our changing economy and society.”

The spending package is not expected to have much hope in the Republican-controlled Senate. GOP lawmakers were critical of the bill, which they said was a version of the Green New Deal that progressive lawmakers have been pushing in this Congress. 

Republicans on the House committee lamented the lack of bipartisanship on the infrastructure bill and said it's a way for the Democrats to push their Green New Deal initiatives. The minority leader on the T&I committee, Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), dubbed it the “My Way or the Highway” bill, in a blog post.

In his closing statement before the committee passed the legislation, Graves said it was the first time in his 20 years on the committee that he voted against a surface transportation bill. “I hope we get back to working on bipartisan bills that help our country’s infrastructure,” he added. 

The Republicans on June 19 introduced their own highway bill, the Surface Transportation Advanced through Reform Technology and Efficient Review (STARTER) Act, which is not expected to make it out of the Democrat-controlled committee.

Organizations representing truck stops, travel plazas and gas retailers oppose the bill, citing two provisions that could discourage businesses from investing in electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure. 

NATSO, which represents truck stops and travel plazas, the National Association of Convenience Stores, and the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America issued statements opposing an amendment that would permit EV charging at non-commercial rest areas.

“The INVEST Act also includes a provision in Section 1303 that would allow investor-owned utilities to ‘double-dip’ and receive federal grants even if they have already raised rates on all of their customers to underwrite electric vehicle charging infrastructure investments,” according to a NATSO statement

Commercial vehicle and trucking industry-related aspects of the INVEST Act include:

  • $250 million in grants to construct and improve truck parking
  • Higher funding levels for the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program, high-priority grants, and Commercial Driver’s License Program implementation grants to help states in truck and bus safety oversight and enforcement activities, commercial driver licensing, and technology improvements to support those efforts.
    • Commercial driver licensing requirements to vehicles carrying nine to 15 passengers. 
      • Creation of a Truck Leasing Task Force to examine lease and lease-purchase agreements commonly made available to truck drivers and the impacts of these captive leases on driver pay. 
        • The transportation secretary to collect and use data on driver detention to determine the link between detention and safety outcomes. 
          • The transportation secretary to evaluate the impacts of exemptions before finalizing changes to hours of service rules and establishes stronger reporting requirements for carriers utilizing exemptions. 
            • The transportation secretary to complete rulemaking that requires automatic emergency braking systems in newly-manufactured commercial motor vehicles. 
              • The DOT to strengthen rear underride guard standards in newly-manufactured trailers and semi-trailers; and to research and consider the feasibility, benefits, and costs associated with installing side underride guards; and creates an Advisory Committee on Underride Protection.

                Some highlights from the INVEST Act for $319 billion in highway spending include:

                • Prioritizing fixing broken, outdated U.S. infrastructure — including 47,000 structurally deficient bridges — before building new highway capacity. 
                • Modernizing infrastructure with new spending to address gridlock and the most impactful projects and bottlenecks that affect local regions and the national transportation network. 
                  • Measuring state-by-state greenhouse gas emissions, with incentives for best performers in carbon pollution reduction, and a new program to fund infrastructure that can withstand the impacts of climate change. 
                    • Dramatically increasing funding for the development of charging stations and other alternative fueling options for electric and zero-emission vehicles. 
                      • Addressing rising rates of pedestrian and bicyclist deaths by requiring states with the highest rates to set aside money to fix the problem; it also codifies and expands eligibility for safe routes to school; provides funding to develop active transportation networks; and strengthens emphasis on high-risk rural roads. 
                        • Doubling funding for technology deployment to increase innovation and creates programs to fund green materials research and to deploy green construction materials and practices to create more efficient transportation systems. 

                          Transit investments in the bill total $105 billion and include:

                          • Increased funding for transit agencies to add new routes and provide more reliable service while encouraging viable public transit options and fewer single-occupant cars on highways
                          • A “mobility innovation program” to permit transit agencies to collaborate on mobility-on-demand services. 
                            • A “Buy America” provision that aims to boost domestic jobs in rail and bus manufacturing.
                              • Increased investment in zero-emission buses to reduce carbon pollution.

                                The bill also includes $10 billion in commercial and passenger vehicle safety investments:

                                • $5.3 billion in funding for highway safety programs under the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 
                                • Another $4.6 billion in funding for truck and bus safety programs under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. 
                                About the Author

                                Josh Fisher | Editor-in-Chief

                                Editor-in-Chief Josh Fisher has been with FleetOwner since 2017, covering everything from modern fleet management to operational efficiency, artificial intelligence, autonomous trucking, regulations, and emerging transportation technology. He is based in Maryland. 

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