On Dec. 4, 2015, President Obama signed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (the “FAST Act”) into law. The Act is the first law in more than 10 years which provides funding for surface transportation projects for the next five years, allowing federal government funded projects at all levels to proceed.

The Act provides an increase in funding for surface transportation infrastructure, such as highways and transit lines, from $205 billion to $225.2 billion. The majority of these funds will be apportioned to the states by the Department of Transportation, and will be used by state and local authorities to move forward with plans to improve and develop surface transportation projects in their jurisdictions.

Title I of the Act is intended to refocus efforts on the movement of goods for the U.S. economy by establishing a formula for highway freight projects and establishing a new grant program, which is known as the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects Program (NSFHP), for funding crucial projects.

The motivation for the creation of the NSFHP is to provide funding for projects that will reduce congestion, generate national and regional economic benefits, and facilitate the efficient movement of freight.

The Act also increases the transparency of the federal-aid highway program by requiring project-level information to be provided to Congress and the public. Additionally, the Act promotes innovation in technology by providing for the deployment of transportation technologies and congestion management tools that will help allow an efficient and safe surface transportation system.

Title II of the Act establishes improvements to the access of the provided funds for financing projects. The Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) is one of the programs for which the Act provides these improvements by updating it to be better utilized by rural areas and making it more accessible for small projects.

Additionally, the Act requires the Department of Transportation to establish a streamlined application process for use by eligible applicants.

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Title III of the Act focuses on funding for improvements to public transportation by reauthorizing the programs of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) through fiscal year 2020 and including a number of reforms to improve mobility, streamline capital project construction and acquisition, and increase the safety of public transportation systems across the country.

The Act specifically provides for consistently strong funding to the FTA’s state and local partners, allowing them to have better management and control over their long-term projects.

Title IV of the Act attempts to bolster safety by reauthorizing the highway safety programs administered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Additionally, the Act enables states to spend funds on safety issues unique to their jurisdictions by allowing for the reallocation of unspent National Priority Safety Program funds, while also increasing the percentage of funds that can be flexed into traditional safety programs when needed.

Further, the Act confronts problems of impaired driving by requiring the Secretary of the United States Department of Transportation to study the possibility of creating an impairment standard for drivers under the influence of marijuana, and it also requires the Secretary to take steps to raise awareness of the dangers of drug-impaired driving.

Title V of the Act addresses long-standing regulatory issues which are of concern to the transportation industry.

The Act requires the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to work with the National Research Council to conduct a study of the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program, specifically focusing on how the Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs) predict or are correlated with future crash risk and crash severity.

Until the U.S. DOT Inspector General certifies that a corrective action plan has been implemented by the FMCSA, CSA data and BASICs alerts and percentiles under the CSA program will not be made available to the general public. But raw inspection and violation data submitted to FMCSA by inspectors and law enforcement, out of service rates, and absolute measures will still remain available to the public.

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Bill Tehan is an attorney and board member at Ruder Ware’s Wausau office, practicing primarily in the area of business and commercial law.He is also a member of the Conference of Freight Counsel, the International Association for Contract and Commercial Management, the Transportation Lawyers Association and the Wisconsin Motor Carriers Association.


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