Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill: Safety Programs

Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill: Safety Programs

August 02, 2021  | Jeff Davis

President Biden’s original American Jobs Plan proposed an even $20 billion for “Safety for all Users.” When the fine print came out, it became clear that $8 billion of the $20 billion was for above-baseline, increased funding for the Highway Safety Improvement Program of the Federal Highway Administration. However, existing funding for that program comes from Highway Trust Fund contract authority and is one of the core formula programs, so increasing the funding for one affects the funding levels for all the other formula programs, which also affects the relative distribution of funding to states, which is a gigantic pain in the neck.

So the negotiations around the safety pot of money quickly abandoned discussions of HSIP (though the bill from the EPW Committee, contained verbatim in the bipartisan bill, provides $3.5 billion more for HSIP over five years than the flat-line baseline of the fiscal 2021 HSIP total – it’s just that the $3.5 billion increase came out of a different pot of money, not the safety pot).

Taking the $8 billion for HSIP off the table for those reasons, the safety request from the AJP became $12 billion, and the bipartisan bill identifies $10.5 billion in above-baseline funding in response.

AJP BIB
Safety for All Users
Expand HSIP (FHWA) 8 0.0
Support Safe Driving Behaviors 1 1.1
Safe Streets for All Fund 10 5.0
Expand NHTSA & FMCSA Base CA 0 2.2
SMART Grants 0 0.5
FMCSA Data & Enforcement 0 0.7
Pipeline Safety Modern. Grants 1 1.0
Total, Safety for All Users 20 10.5

Safe Streets/Vision Zero

The centerpiece of this is the $5 billion, one-time “Safe Streets and Roads for All” grant program authorized by section 24112 of the bipartisan bill. This authorization is located in the NHTSA part of the bill, but they are not a big competitive grant-making agency, so the actual appropriation places the program within the Office of the Secretary.

Sub-state municipal governments, MPOs, and tribes will be able to apply for grants to develop Vision Zero plans, or (if they already have a plan), for projects implementing that plan. Of each year’s $1 billion appropriation, the bill requires the NOFO to go out in the first six months of the fiscal year and for grants to be announced within 270 days of a NOFO. At least 40 percent of each year’s total appropriation ($400 million of the up-front $1 billion, plus more if appropriated in future bills) would have to go for the planning grants to develop Vision Zero plans.

Interestingly, there is no maximum or minimum grant size, and the only restrictions are that no more than 15 percent of any year’s grants can go towards grants in any one state, and that the federal cost share of projects shall not exceed 80 percent.

SMART Grants

Section 25005 of the bipartisan bill directs the Secretary to establish a “Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation Grant Program” to “provide grants to eligible entities to conduct demonstration projects focused on advanced smart city or community technologies and systems in a variety of communities to improve transportation efficiency and safety.” The grants can be used to carry out projects demonstrating coordinated automation, connected vehicles, sensor-based infrastructure, systems integration, commerce delivery and logistics, smart grid, or smart traffic signal technologies, or integrating the use of unmanned aircraft systems to support surface transportation safety and efficiencies.

The bill appropriates $500 million for the program ($100 million per year). Section 25005 provides that no more than 40 percent may go to large communities, no more than 30 percent to midsized communities, and no more than 30 percent to rural communities or regional partnerships.

(Ed. Note: Yes, yes, the whole “smart cities” thing sounds very five years ago. People in DC don’t talk much about the concept anymore, and this article from WIRED from six weeks ago shows how things didn’t work out quite as well as the winner of USDOT’s 2016 competition, Columbus Ohio, hoped. But, as mayor of South Bend, Buttigieg was all-in on the concept, and maybe these grants can be used to deliver tangible benefits without the over-hyping of anything digital of the mid-2010s.)

NHTSA

The bipartisan bill gives extra money for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration two different ways. First, Highway Trust Fund contract authority for the agency is increased by $1.141 billion over baseline over the five-year period. Second, there are $1.609 billion in one-time general fund appropriations in equal tranches over five years.

All of the contract authority goes to the highway safety side of NHTSA (which is really two agencies in one, literally, see the story here). Increased funding to make the roads themselves safer (through elimination of roadside hazards, better line marking, better guardrails, etc.), and incentive grants to change driver behavior like the traditional DUI, open container, seat belt, and distracted driving incentive grants, along with the media campaigns to attempt to influence seat belt use, discourage drunk driving, etc. $310 million of the general fund appropriations are also for the highway safety side of the agency.

The other $1.3 billion of the general fund appropriations goes towards the vehicle safety side of the agency (making sure that cars themselves are less likely to crash or are safer for occupants and others in the event of a crash. $750 million goes to carry out section 24108 of the bipartisan bill – a new crash data collection system “to include the collection of crash report data elements that distinguish individual personal conveyance vehicles, such as electric scooters and bicycles, from other vehicles involved in a crash.” The new system is also supposed to “include the collection of additional crash report data elements relating to vulnerable road user safety” and “combine highway crash data and injury health data to produce a national database of pedestrian injuries and fatalities, disaggregated by demographic characteristics.”

Then, an additional $548.5 million in one-time money is appropriated that sort of crosses both sides of the NHTSA highway safety vs vehicle safety divide – the appropriations paragraph says the money can be used for “behavioral research on Automated Systems and Advanced Driver Assistance Systems [aka partially self-driving cars] and improving consumer responses to safety recalls” and the National Driver Register, but it also allows the Secretary to move up to $350 million from the vehicle safety side to the highway side if he sees fit.

Overall funding for NHTSA (aggregate 5-year totals provided by the bill) are shown below, in millions of dollars.

Contract BIB GF BIB
Authority Advance TOTAL
National Highway Traffic Safety Admin.
NHTSA §402 Highway Safety Programs 1,892.0 100.0 1,992.0
NHTSA §403 Highway Safety R&D 970.0 0.0 970.0
NHTSA §404 High-Visibility Enforcement 201.6 0.0 201.6
NHTSA §405 National Priority Safety 1,764.5 110.0 1,874.5
NHTSA Chapter 4 Admin. Expenses 168.8 100.0 268.8
NHTSA National Driver Register 36.0 0.0 36.0
Crash Data 0.0 750.0 750.0
Vehicle Safety and Behavioral Research 0.0 548.5 548.5
TOTAL NHTSA B.A. 5,032.9 1,608.5 6,641.4

FMCSA

As with NHTSA, this pot of money both beefs up the Highway Trust Fund contract authority baseline for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (by $1.078 billion over five years), and also provides some additional one-time appropriations ($672.5 million in this case), all in the name of regulating the safety of the trucking and bus industries. However, all of the extra money fit within the existing program structure under the FAST Act (especially the core Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program), as shown in the table below, in millions of dollars.

Contract BIB GF BIB
Authority Advance TOTAL
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
FMCSA Administrative Expenses 1,875.0 50.0 1,925.0
FMCSA §31102 MCSAP 2,032.5 400.0 2,432.5
FMCSA §31102(l) High Priority Program 300.0 132.5 432.5
FMCSA §31102(l)(5) CMV Enforcement 25.0 0.0 25.0
FMCSA §31103 CMV Operators Grants 6.5 10.0 16.5
FMCSA §31313 CDL Program 217.5 80.0 297.5
TOTAL FMCSA B.A. 4,456.5 672.5 5,129.0

PHMSA

Finally, the appropriations part of the bipartisan bill provides $1 billion ($200 million per year x 5) for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which is quite a lot, since PHMSA’s total agency budget is normally only around $300 million per year (gross). The funding is to go to “make competitive grants for the modernization of natural gas distribution pipelines.” Only pipelines owned by municipalities or community-owned utilities are eligible – for-profit pipeline owners need not apply.

Grants must be used by a recipient “to repair, rehabilitate, or replace its natural gas distribution pipeline system or portions thereof or to acquire equipment to (1) reduce incidents and fatalities and (2) avoid economic losses.” The bill directs the Secretary, when making the grants, to take into account the risk profile of the pipeline, the job creation potential fo the projects, the potential for benefitting disadvantaged communities, and the economic impact. Each year, no more than 12.5 percent of total annual appropriations can go to any single municipality or community.

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