After several years and 10 extensions, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) was signed into law on July 6, 2012. Funding surface transportation programs at over $105 billion for fiscal years 2013 and 2014, MAP-21 was the first “long-term” highway authorization enacted since 2005.
While that’s tremendous news for the highway construction market and the asphalt industry, what does it mean for the upcoming year? Equipment Today asked leading industry experts to weigh in on what they see coming down the road for 2013.
Pros and Cons of MAP-21
ET: How will MAP-21 impact the highway construction industry?
Mike Acott, president, National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA): It was a shot in the arm for the industry to have Congress pass a multi-year highway bill for the first time since 2005. The enactment of MAP-21 showed that grassroots can make a difference, and if the members of Congress are willing to bridge the partisan divide, legislation that is positive for America can be enacted into law.
Alison Premo Black, PhD, vice president and chief economist, American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA): The passage of MAP-21 does provide some stability to the funding levels in the federal aid program, which drives close to half of the U.S. highway and bridge construction market. The bill increases federal obligation levels to keep pace with inflation. Although this is a welcome development, it means that real federal aid spending will be flat.
There is also the issue that project costs, which include increases in material costs and wages, generally outpace the general inflation rate. This will further impact the purchasing power of the federal aid program.
Patrick Faster, president, Asphalt Recycling & Reclaiming Association (ARRA): The impact of MAP-21 for highway contractors is minimal. This bill offers some relief; however, it is with little or no funding increase. Various agency levels have been starved for funding, and it looks like that will stay the course for a bit longer.
ET: What are the highlights of the bill for the road building community?
NAPA: MAP-21 includes excellent policy initiatives that should not be understated. For example, the environmental streamlining provisions will help speed project delivery and thereby spend dollars more efficiently. The expansion of the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) with additional funding will leverage public dollars to attract private investment to pay for larger highway projects.
The other piece of good news is that the legislation does not impose any mandates for pavement design or pavement type selection, as was originally proposed by key senators drafting the legislation. Those decisions should be made by engineers in the state DOTs and public works departments.
ARTBA: MAP-21 includes several significant changes to the review and approval process for transportation projects that could have a positive impact on the industry, including a number of ARTBA’s long-held priorities. These include greater “lead agency authority” for the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the integration of the planning and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) processes.
Perhaps most importantly, MAP-21 allows for the expanded use of the categorical exclusion (CE) process, the least rigorous form of environmental review, in a number of additional areas. CEs may now be used for projects within an existing right-of-way, certain components of multi-modal projects and repair and reconstruction of existing roads, highways and bridges.
It also expands SAFETEA-LU’s efforts to delegate responsibilities to states by allowing all states to assume control of either CEs or the entire environmental review process. Finally, MAP-21 narrows the time limit to file lawsuits on a project decision and establishes time limits on permitting decisions.