1. It’s Been A Long Time Coming
The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act is actually a compromise between the Senate’s Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act that was passed in July and the House’s Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act (STRR) Act that was passed in November. According to the Department of Transportation, this five-year, $305 billion plan intends to: “reform and strengthen transportation programs, refocus on national priorities, provides long-term certainty and more flexibility for states and local governments, streamline project approval processes, and maintain a strong commitment to safety.”
2. It Has An Ambitious Set of Goals
Quoted directly from the Department of Transportation, the goals of the FAST Act are to:
- Help ensure that Americans can get where they’re going more safely and spend less time sitting in traffic.
- Help raw materials and products can get to their destinations more efficiently.
- Ensure that the cost of goods and services we depend on every day are not needlessly inflated by poor infrastructure and freight bottlenecks.
- Ensure that programs work better for states and local partners.
- Help American businesses can be more competitive and enabled to create more jobs.
3. A Lot of “Big News” Provisions Were Removed
Throughout the last quarter of 2015 there was hot debate over several proposed provisions of the highway bill. It seems that many of these were thrown out of the final version of the FAST Act, including:
- The proposed increases in maximum weight and length were both thrown out. These provisions faced opposition from major groups like the Truckload Carriers Association and Truck Safety Coalition, who cited increased investment for limited benefits and safety concerns, respectively.
- The provision that would have encouraged brokers and shippers to hire carriers based off of a set of criteria was thrown out. If this provision had passed, over 450,000 motor carriers would have potentially lost business based on just one criterium- a “Satisfactory” safety rating. Data suggests that nearly half a million small trucking companies and owner-operators are simply unrated and would have been disqualified unfairly.
4. Major Changes are Possible Depending on Research
While quite a few widely discussed provisions were thrown out, others were placed in a sort of legislative purgatory: pending dependent on the result of research.
- The provision that would have essentially allowed individual states to create compacts with one another to allow motor carriers under the age of 21 to cross state lines was not in the final version of the bill. Instead, the FMCSA will conduct a controlled study on under-21 drivers who served in the military or who serve in the reserves to determine safety and
- The FMCSA is also required to do research on how detention time impacts drivers, their schedules, their pay and how it impedes the flow of U.S. freight.
- The FMCSA will also be conducting research to determine whether or not there should be a raise in the minimum $750,000 in liability insurance required for general freight haulers.
- The FMCSA had to make the compliance and safety scores of drivers private. They must now commission a Transportation research board to “study of the accuracy of the CSA Safety Measurement System (SMS) in identifying high-risk carriers and predicting future crash risk and severity.”
5. Many are Happy With the Provisions that Were Passed
While no one expected anyone to be completely satisfied, many expressed satisfaction with the measure that were passed, including: a path to reform the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s CSA safety monitoring system, potential for the use of hair testing for federally mandated drug tests, an easier process for veterans returning from service to transition into the trucking industry, and dedicated funds for important highway freight projects.
- American Trucking Associations’ President and CEO Bill Graves said in a statement that “[Tuesday]’s announcement that House and Senate leaders had reached an agreement on a long-term highway bill is welcome news to those of us in the transportation world. While we all, of course, wish there was more money to be had, this bill takes important steps to re-focus the program on important national projects and takes critical steps to improve trucking safety and efficiency.”
- Anthony Foxx, Secretary of Transportation and a long-term advocator for improvements in infrastructure said in a statement that, “After 36 extensions, hundreds of congressional meetings, two bus tours, visits to 43 states, and so much uncertainty, it has been a long and bumpy ride to a long-term transportation bill. It’s not perfect, and there is still more left to do, but it reflects a bipartisan compromise I always knew was possible.”