WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — The U.S. Congress passed multi-year surface transportation legislation on Dec. 3, providing greater certainty for transportation infrastructure projects that are critical to all sectors of U.S. agriculture, said the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA).
The $305,000,000,000, five-year highway bill, the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act (H.R. 22), is the first long-term transportation funding Congress has passed in a decade. After passage in the Senate, the bill was sent to President Barrack Obama just a day before federal highway funding expires.
The FAST Act includes multiple provisions critically important to agriculture such as regulatory relief measures, policies that improve the movement of freight, and a provision that restores crop insurance funding.
"We applaud lawmakers' efforts in putting together this legislation that is vital for rural America, as well as to the economic well-being of the entire country," said NGFA Director of Economics and Government Relations Max Fisher.
The NGFA has been active in advocating for surface transportation initiatives that will keep U.S. agriculture competitive as it serves domestic and international markets. The NGFA, along with the American Farm Bureau Federation, led agricultural and farm group efforts in garnering congressional support for the bill.
The legislation includes several provisions that benefit members of the NGFA, including a port performance statistics program.
"Keeping track of port performance data, at least at the nation's busiest ports, should help draw attention to the damages of port disputes before they impact the entire supply chain," Fisher said.
With regard to transportation, the multi-year reauthorization provides certainty for state and local governments to maintain and move forward with transportation projects, the American Soybean Association (ASA) said. It provides new flexibilities and streamlines environmental review and permitting processes aimed at accelerating projects. The bill also establishes new national freight policies and programs aimed at improving freight movement and strengthening U.S. economic competitiveness.
The bill includes the following:
• A national highway freight policy with the express goal of strengthening U.S. economic competiveness.
• A national multimodal freight network that will focus federal policy on the most strategic freight assets and assist in directing resources to improve multimodal freight network performance.
• Minimum Financial Responsibility: Requires the Department of Transportation to consider prior to issuing a rule the potential impacts of raising the minimum financial responsibility above $750,000 on the motor carrier industry, safety, etc.
• Port performance freight statistics program.
• Hours-of-Service Rule for Livestock and Poultry: Permanently removes the 30-minute break after eight hours-of-service requirement, which will avoid unnecessary discomfort for livestock and poultry during transport.
Unfortunately the bill fails to enable states to allow increased truck weights on federal interstates, after the defeat of an amendment offered by Rep. Reid Ribble of Wisconsin that would have provided states the option to increase truck weight limits on federal interstates, the ASA said.