On July 6, 2012 President Obama signed into law the ‘‘Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act’’. The current highway bill was on its ninth temporary extension and set to expire on June 30. The law reauthorizes the federal-aid highway and transit programs through September 30, 2014.
In addition to ensuring urgently needed road, bridge, transit, and rail improvements will get underway; the Act has provisions applicable to a broad range of programs and issues.
Some of the issues and concerns addressed:
- The law initiates improvements to port infrastructure by permitting the full spending of the more than $6 billion surplus in the Harbor Maintenance Fund. The Army Corps of Engineers estimates that needed port channel repairs run in the billions, and that our busiest ports can only use 50 percent of their capacity 95 percent of the time.
- The law calls for a National Freight Strategy that can develop an integrated improvement strategy to reduce congestion and fuel costs by ensuring more port containers travel to markets on freight rail.
- For highway safety (among others) includes a requirement that commercial trucks use electronic logging devices to record drivers’ compliance with federal hours of service limits, a new clearinghouse to track drug and alcohol test results, and a study of crashworthiness standards for large trucks.
- For hazmat, the bill reauthorizes the DOT hazardous materials safety program, and bans a DOT-proposed wetlines regulation until the Government Accountability Office can analyze its costs and benefits. In addition:
- Authorizes PHMSA to conduct pilot projects on using paperless hazard communications systems and report later on whether the agency recommends incorporating such paperless hazcom systems into the Hazardous Materials Regulations;
- Requires PHMSA to assess methods to collect, analyze and report data on hazmat transportation accidents and incidents.
- Directs PHMSA to establish uniform standards for training of inspectors and to train inspectors in all modes on how to collect, analyze, and publish findings from inspections and investigations of accidents or incidents involving the transportation of hazardous material, how to identify noncompliance with the HMRs, and how to take appropriate enforcement action.
- The law includes language that amends the authority of DOT to open and inspect hazmat packages en route when the inspector reasonably believes the package presents an imminent hazard.
- Increases the maximum civil penalties for violations of the HMRs from $50,000 to $75,000, and from $100,000 to $175,000 where the violation results in death, serious illness, or severe injury to any person or substantial destruction of property, and adds a minimum civil penalty for training violations of $450.
- Requires a rulemaking within two years to set out procedures and criteria for evaluating applications for special permits and approvals. Requires a review and another rulemaking within three years to establish a means to incorporate special permits that have been in continuous effect for a ten-year period into the HMRs.
- Requires States to submit to DOT a list of the State’s currently effective hazardous material highway route designations and to update that list every two years.