Feds plan big road safety spending

February 1, 2004 By    

The nation’s surface transportation law is getting repaved to the tune of about $300 billion over six years.

Key legislators in both houses are moving replacement legislation for the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, which officially expired last Oct. 1 but is operating with a spare tire through February while Congress designs its replacement.

The Senate Environment & Public Works Committee approved a $255 billion bill for roadway construction, safety, etc. Almost all members of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, meanwhile, introduced a separate, bipartisan bill.

Both bills would start a highway safety improvement program. States would have to develop plans to address highway safety, then use their share of funds to correct identified hazards. Action could range from widening or adding lanes, installing rumble strips, adding skid-resistant surfaces in high-frequency accident areas and installing safety features at railway crossings.

The Senate bill would allow propane-powered vehicles in high occupancy lanes, even with only the driver in the car. It also would add the purchase of propane as an alternative fuel as an allowable use of Congestion Mitigation & Air Quality Improvement Program funds. Communities get CMAQ grants to improve air quality and reduce congestion caused by transportation.

The House bill would continue the Clean Fuels Formula Grant Program, allowing grants to buy LPG-powered vehicles.

Both bills would provide $22 million in 2004 and 2005, $23 million in 2006 and 2007, $24 million in 2008 and $25 million in 2009 to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for grants to improve commercial driver’s license programs.

States that want safety funding, however, will have to meet new requirements. Licensing manuals, for instance, would have to warn car drivers to watch for wide turns of tanker trucks and to be careful passing them. States would also have to stop traffic by unlicensed commercial carriers.

Meanwhile, Congress is moving a few companion measures.

The Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee approved the Surface Transportation Safety Reauthorization Act. The bill would authorize $25 million in commercial vehicle information systems and networks grants to states to develop technological systems to improve carrier safety. It also would authorize funding for the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program at $186 million in 2004, rising to $205.5 million in 2009. So far, 46 states participate in the program.

Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MO), chairman of the Science Subcommittee on Environment, Technology & Standards, has introduced a companion measure. The bill would create a program at the National Academy of Sciences to conduct research on highway safety and set aside increasing funds – starting at $500 million this year rising to $850 million in 2009 – for transportation research and helping states train transportation workers.

Briefly speaking

Pipeline operator testing
Pipeline operators will have to drug test just 25 percent of its employees this year because the positive rates of previous tests don’t justify increasing the percentage, the Research & Special Programs Administration has decreed.

RSPA also proposed new rules to require pipeline operators to develop procedures to inspect lines in offshore waters less than 15 feet deep or crossing under a navigable waterway.

Clean fuel tax deduction
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) has introduced a bill to extend the tax deduction for clean-fuel vehicles and refueling property for three years. It would allow the full credit through 2006 and then be phased out over the next three years.

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