Pro-Planning Infrastructure Bill Poised to Clear Senate Hurdle

Editor's Note: The US Senate passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684) by a roll call vote of 69 yeas, 30 nays on August 10, 2021. The legislative package moves next to the House, where it may be taken up for a vote on final passage today. 

Planners' infrastructure priorities will hit an important milestone later this week when the Senate passes the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

The bill includes at its core the full five-year surface transportation reauthorization, which challenges the status quo by making notable policy reforms that APA members have long pushed for. Reforming and renewing the FAST Act is one of four federal priorities for planners in 2021. The FAST Act expires on September 30.

Senate Advances Comprehensive Transportation Planning Legislation

The pro-planning language embraced in the bill moves us forward beyond the baseline established in the current law. While there remain areas to improve, we applaud the Senate for rallying behind the following planning-specific ideas and provisions:

A greater share of funding for communities and regions

  • A 32 percent increase in funding for MPOs over 2020 levels.
  • Larger metropolitan regions will receive a new direct funding stream for plan implementation through a $50 million per year grant program focused on congestion relief.

Incorporating climate and resilience planning into transportation

  • The first-ever climate change provisions to surface transportation bill with new $6.4 billion formula and grant funding program for carbon reduction, 65 percent of program funding which would go to regions and localities.
  • A new PROTECT program for resilience projects includes $1.4 billion in competitive grant funding with a dedicated $140 million set aside specifically for planning. A $7.3 billion formula funding program for resilience and hazard mitigation will also be created.

Expanding and reforming support for biking, walking, transit, and safety programs

  • A $1 billion Reconnecting Communities program will be created to tackle transportation equity issues and address past infrastructure that has segregated neighborhoods. This program will include dedicated funding of $150 million specifically for planning.
  • Reform and expansion of the Transportation Alternatives Program that funds biking and walking projects. TAP will receive more funding and provide greater local control to Metropolitan Planning Organizations.
  • The Highway Safety Improvement Program will receive additional funding and will use planning to target vulnerable populations and areas of greatest need. The Safe Routes to School program will be codified.
  • A new complete streets program and a $5 billion Safe Streets and Roads for All safety planning program is created with $400 million per year set aside for local vision zero planning.
  • A new $2 billion rural competitive grant program will be aimed at increasing connectivity; improving the safety and reliability of moving people and freight; generating economic growth; and improving quality of life.
  • Micromobility projects — from bike share to scooters and other last-mile connectivity — will be eligible under the CMAQ program.
  • An eleven-fold increase in rail funding with $66 billion, including $12 billion for non-Amtrak intercity rail projects.
  • Increased transit funding, including annual funding levels of roughly $14 billion, a $7 billion annual increase for Capital Investment Grants, and one-time supplement funding of $10.3 billion for transit grants and $8 billion for CIG.
  • Increased funding for RAISE and INFRA grants.

Planning for emerging needs and technologies

  • Planning and implementation of smart cities technologies will be supported with a new $500 million SMART grant program for regions and localities.
  • $65 billion for broadband, including $60 million specifically for digital equity plans.
  • MPOs will be eligible for a new pilot program focused on using data and public engagement innovations in project prioritization and improving travel demand data and modeling.
  • States will be encouraged to develop "human capital" workforce development plans through MPOs and connected to the transportation planning process.
  • The bill authorizes $2.5 billion from the Highway Trust Fund over five years for a new competitive grant program to build out alternative fuel corridors and electric vehicle charging.
  • The bill appropriates $5 billion for a new Electric Vehicle Formula Program to provide money to build electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Electric vehicle charging will be eligible for funding through the existing Surface Transportation Block Grant Program (STBGP) which allows for the purchase of zero-emission vehicles in the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program.
  • New housing coordination plans will help MPOs and local governments improve the connection of transportation and land use planning.

APA Advocates for Impactful Transportation Policies

APA believes negotiations between the Senate and the House over dueling reauthorization policies would lead to securing the best possible transportation and broadband infrastructure package for planners (read: 60 percent sub-allocation to regions and communities on the Surface Transportation Block Grant program). Even without a conference committee, the Senate bill represents a step forward on longtime planning priorities. Getting it done this year would be a huge win.

The next two months will be critical. The nation's current surface transportation law will expire. The fate of infrastructure could be decided. Work on reconciliation — the legislative vehicle we believe is best suited to advance zoning reform priority — will begin.

Planners have an opportunity to push for real change on transportation infrastructure, zoning reform, and climate change — the issues where planners are best positioned to have the greatest impact.

About the Authors
Emily Pasi is APA's Public Affairs Manager and Jason Jordan is APA's Public Affairs Director.

August 4, 2021

By Emily Pasi, Jason Jordan