Surface Transportation Bill
On Friday, July 6, 2012, President Obama signed into law Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP 21). Funding is authorized for two full fiscal years plus the three remaining months of Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. $105 billion in total is provided for FY 2013 and FY 2014. The new law includes several provisions of importance to the rail supply industry, including a study of truck size and weight issues, a continued set-aside for the Section 130 grade crossing program and funds for Operation Lifesaver activities.
Below are programs within the law that historically impact the rail supply industry.
Grade Crossing Safety
Since 1973 Congress has provided dedicated funding for states through the Section 130 Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety Program to implement safety improvements projects at grade crossings. Such improvements include flashing lights, gates or other warning devices and even upgraded surfacing material. Combined with Operation Lifesaver’s safety message of “look, listen and live” at highway rail grade crossings, fatalities and injuries have been reduced dramatically. The Section 130 program within SAFETEA-LU provides $220 million per year which allows states, localities and railroads to implement this simple strategy: close unnecessary crossings, upgrade the remaining crossings with the most modern warning devices available and, with Operation Lifesaver, educate the public on the dangers at these unique intersections.
Under MAP 21, the current funding set-aside for grade crossing safety improvements remains unchanged. States will continue to receive a total of $220 million per year and must include grade crossing safety in their highway safety plans and strategies.
Operation Lifesaver, Inc.
Operation Lifesaver, Inc. (OLI) is a nationwide volunteer education organization. This public information and education program is an essential tool in the prevention of motor vehicle accidents, injuries and fatalities at highway-rail grade crossings. Recognizing the importance of a coordinated nationwide safety message, Congress, beginning in 1988, provided an annual $250,000 set aside for OLI through the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act of 1987. Congress has continued to fund OLI and increased the set aside to $560,000 per year in the late 1990s.
MAP 21 requires a minimum of $3 million annually for FY 2013 and FY 2014 to be spent on the Operation Lifesaver program and work zone safety grants.
Truck Sizes & Weights
Currently, truck size and weight limits on federal highways have been frozen by Congress since 1991. Under current law, trucks operating on most of the U.S. Interstate Highway System can have a gross vehicle weight of no more than 80,000 pounds. Past attempts to thaw the federal freeze have been rejected by Congress. Proponents of heavier trucks are now asking Congress to raise the national cap on truck size by 20 percent to 97,000 pounds from the current limit of 80,000 pounds. RSI continues to partner with and supports the activities of the Coalition Against Bigger Trucks to extend the present freeze on longer and heavier combination vehicles from the Interstate Highway System to the entire National Highway System.
MAP 21 retains the current freeze and requires the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to conduct a two-year study of truck sizes and weights. The study must begin in mid-August and a report on its findings is due to Congress no later than November 2014. The study must examine the impact of trucks exceeding current federal size and weight limits on accident data; potential effects on infrastructure (costs and benefits; the percentage of trucks operating in excess of federal limits; the ability of states to recover costs); the frequency of weight or size violations and the cost of enforcement; the impact on bridges; and the impact on safety. The scope of the study will be comprehensive, covering all states, and include an evaluation of the impact on modal diversion. Under the law, USDOT must also compile a list of existing state truck size and weight laws.