IBTTA explains INVEST in America Act 2021

Mark Muriello, IBTTA director of policy & government affairs, outlines some of the key tolling points of the US House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s INVEST in America Act 2021
Charging, Tolling & Road Pricing / June 23, 2021
INVEST in America surface transportation Biden © Celso Diniz | Dreamstime.com
INVEST is a $547 billion bill to fund surface transportation programs which is aligned with the Biden Administration’s American Jobs Plan infrastructure proposal (© Celso Diniz | Dreamstime.com)

On June 4, 2021, the US House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee released its Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America Act, or the INVEST in America Act of 2021, for the reauthorization of the federal surface transportation program.  

INVEST is a $547 billion bill to fund surface transportation programs which is aligned with the Biden Administration’s American Jobs Plan infrastructure proposal. The bill is similar to the Moving America Forward (HR-2) bill advanced by T&I in 2020. 

The INVEST in America bill proposes increased spending of about 11%. It is difficult to directly compare the House INVEST bill with the Senate bill since the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) bill only addresses highways, while the T&I bill also includes transit and rail titles. The House INVEST bill has a $343 billion highway program, compared to the Senate EPW $311 billion program for roads and bridges over the next five years.

The INVEST bill increases federal spending on less-polluting transportation modes, supports a shift to electric vehicles, and ensures road safety for cyclists and pedestrians. The INVEST bill encourages road repair and maintenance as well as transit expansion. The bill seeks to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector and aims to use transportation to support improved access to opportunity for low-income and underserved communities.  

The INVEST bill dedicates $32 billion to bridge funding, $4 billion to electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and $3 billion for removing or retrofitting highways that divide communities. The T&I Committee also included earmarks in which each member was able to designate $15-20 million for projects of their choice if they conform to T&I requirements.

Tolling Provisions in the INVEST in America Act

The INVEST bill’s Tolling section includes much of the same language that was proposed last year, except for the interoperability language. The INVEST bill requires a tolling agreement with USDoT prior to introducing tolls in a federally funded project, which involves burdensome operating and reporting requirements.  

The tolling agreement is also considered a Major Federal Action, triggering a NEPA requirement. IBTTA views the reintroduction of tolling agreements as a major step backward from the progress made in prior reauthorizations, adding another hurdle to state and local initiatives to generate revenue for transportation projects and operations through user payments. 

The INVEST bill contains language on electronic tolling interoperability, in which tolling agreements require "the facility shall provide for the regional interoperability of electronic toll collection, including through technologies or business practices.”  

This requirement is well aligned with the outcomes of IBTTA’s National Interoperability (NIOP) effort and current regional planning and activities on tolling interoperability hubs. 

INVEST also addresses open exchange of information among toll operators that matches the language that some IBTTA members have endorsed to address issues being confronted in class action suits and with the California state legislature.  

The bill states:  “PROHIBITION ON RESTRICTION.—No State, or any political subdivision thereof, shall restrict the information that is shared across public and private toll facility operators or their agents or contractors for purposes of facilitating, operating, or maintaining electronic toll collection programs.”

INVEST also introduces new USDoT controls aimed at ensuring transparency and accountability. The use of revenue provisions require annual reports to USDoT for any bridge, tunnel or highway conversions of free facilities to priced facilities, accounting for “activities funded with such amounts and the amount of funding provided for each such activity".

The noncompliance conditions for federally-sponsored pricing projects grants USDoT the power to discontinue tolling in the event of non-compliance with all program requirements, until compliance is achieved. This provision may suppress interest in the federal program due to a lack of revenue certainty, generally required in many bond covenants. 

Because the bill includes language allowing for congestion pricing, including on the Interstate System, the INVEST bill repeals the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program (ISRRPP) and sunsets the Value Pricing Pilot Program.

The INVEST bill directs USDoT to study the viability of establishing a toll credit exchange marketplace, including potential impacts on transportation expenditures and the pricing that may be considered. This study contrasts with the Senate EPW bill to move forward and implement a toll credit exchange marketplace.

VMT fee pilot programs 

The INVEST bill nearly doubles funding for state-level vehicle miles travelled (VMT) pilot programs and directs program dollars towards implementation of successful state programs. Funding is limited to States or groups of States, as opposed to the Senate EPW bill which allows eligibility for regional and local organizations as well. Cybersecurity and data privacy have been added to the scope of the pilot programs. 

The bill also establishes a new National Surface Transportation System Funding Pilot to explore VMT fees at a national scale by soliciting participants from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The pilot will include passenger vehicles and both light and heavy commercial vehicles. The pilot establishes the prices to be charged for passenger/light commercial vehicles and heavy commercial vehicle trucks based on annual calculations of average motor fuel taxes paid by each vehicle class, rather than using the pilot to research appropriate pricing levels.  

The proposed pilot provides flexibility for the type of revenue-collection mechanism used, including successful approaches employed in the VMT pilots implemented at the State level. The bill establishes an advisory board to guide the pilot’s development and execution but does not include a toll industry representative as a required participant on the advisory board. IBTTA continues to advocate for a seat at the table on the national advisory board for the toll industry to leverage the experience and expertise the IBTTA members have in the technology, engineering, data security, personal privacy, financial reciprocity, account management, and customer service aspects of road charging.

You can find IBTTA’s full summary of the INVEST bill in the recent Government Affairs Update on the IBTTA Website under the Advocacy Tab. Please contact Mark Muriello ([email protected]) with any questions.

This article was first published on IBTTA's Tolling Points blog

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