US Senate approves FAST Act; bill goes to Obama

US Senate approves FAST Act; bill goes to Obama

The US Senate overwhelmingly approved a five-year highway bill December 3 that would finance America’s roads, bridges, and mass-transit systems.

Sending the measure to President Obama for his signature, the senators voted 83 to 16 to approve the $305 billion legislation hours after the bill passed the US House of Representatives by a margin of 359 to 65.

Obama is expected to sign the bill into law December 4, just hours before present funding is scheduled to expire.

As the first long-term US highway bill in a decade, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act represents a rare victory for bipartisanship in Congress.

“It proves to the American people that we can get things done,” said Bill Shuster (R-PA), the House Transportation Committee chairman.

The FAST Act includes:

•Expanded funding for bridges not on the National Highway System

•Increased dedicated bus funding

•Establishment of a pilot program for public-private transit partnerships

•Requirement for Class I railroads to provide crude oil movement information to emergency responders

•Enhanced rail tank car safety measures

•Reform of Amtrak

•Authorization of the Highway Trust Fund through 2020

The legislation earned praise from Republicans for providing $280 billion in money for infrastructure projects from the Highway Trust Fund without raising the federal gasoline tax.

Democrats warned that the modest spending increases would not be enough to fully address the nation’s deteriorating roads, bridges and rail systems.

To avoid higher taxes, the bill’s authors opted for a series of controversial measures. These included a transfer from the Federal Reserve’s surplus funds, an increase in customs fees, and a requirement for the Internal Revenue Service to use private tax collection agencies.

The measures would leave the Highway Trust Fund with $10 billion at the end of 2020, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

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