Surface Transportation Authorization and the States - An Overview

Updated: March 6, 2012

Current Status| NCSL Policy | NCSL Resources | Federal Action Timeline | GAO Reports | State & Local Resources | Other Resources

The following is a collection of key resources, links, and documents related to the Surface Transportation "Authorization," so called by many (including NCSL) instead of "reauthorization" to indicate a desire for the new bill to not simply continue past programs but to reinvent and re-focus the federal approach to surface transportation. 

Details of the buildup to the previous reauthorization, entitled "Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU)," can be found at the following Federal Highway Administration website.

For more information, please contact Ben Husch, Policy Director, NCSL Transportation Committee, NCSL-D.C.


Current Status of the Authorization

On Sept. 16, 2011, President Obama signed into law the Surface and Air Transportation Programs Extension Act of 2011 (H.R. 2887) that extends surface transportation programs through March 31, 2012 at current funding levels. This is the eighth short-term extension of SAFETEA-LU since the original long-term reauthorization expired on Sept. 2009.

As for current congressional activity, efforts to find consensus on a five-year, $260 billion transportation reauthorization in the House have stalled, likely forcing another shorter-term extension before funding for transportation programs expires at the end of March. The House’s next move remains unclear, as it is unlikely to take up the Senate’s reauthorization measure. Talk of an 18-month, short-term extension is being deemed a “fallback measure.” Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada offered a 1,500-page substitute amendment on the Senate’s two-year, $109 billion plan, S. 1813. It would clear numerous non-germane amendments that have been offered. Over 100 amendments have been filed, including many that are non-germane to the issue. This led Sen. Reid to file cloture, which if passed, would begin the process to end debate.

History of Extensions:  The Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2011 (H.R. 662) extended the authorization through Sept. 30, 2011. The Continuing Appropriations and Surface Transportation Extensions Act of 2011 (H.R. 3082) extended the authorization through March 4, 2011. The Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act (H.R. 2847) extended the authorization through Dec. 31, 2010. And, the Temporary Extension Act of 2010 (H.R. 4691) extended the authorization to March 28, 2010.


NCSL Policy - "Surface Transportation Federalism"


"The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) calls on Congress to work closely with states to develop a shared, long-term vision for financing and funding surface transportation systems that will enhance the nation’s prosperity and the quality of life of all Americans."

"NCSL supports the continuation and preservation of a federal-aid surface transportation program. The federal program should direct spending to national priorities while allowing for state and insular area flexibility in local and regional variations. It is also essential that the federal-aid surface transportation program incorporate requirements and foster goals of other national policies that impact transportation decision-making."

"NCSL urges Congress to provide states enhanced programming flexibility to meet a multitude of national goals. States should have maximum flexibility in deciding how to generate and leverage transportation revenues and how to use state and federal dollars. The ability of states to maintain flexibility in decision making and comply with environmental and other mandates is dependent upon regulatory flexibility as well as adequate and reliable funding."

"The surface transportation system in the United States needs a new vision to guide it beyond the Interstate Highway era into the 21st century and the needs and challenges that lie ahead. Congress should look at surface transportation anew, authorizing a new program that better meets current and future needs for interstate mobility. Congress must clearly articulate this new national vision for surface transportation.  In doing so, Congress should consider the following legitimate federal objectives:

  • Interstate commerce and freight mobility;
  • Interstate movement of people;
  • National defense and homeland security;
  • Safety;
  • Environmental and air quality preservation and improvements; and
  • Research and innovation, and
  • Economic productivity."


Related NCSL Resources


Background & Resources on the Authorization

The following links and documents are not endorsed by NCSL. Many of the links go to documents which are in .pdf format, for which there are free readers available for download online.

Select Federal Action, Jan. 2008-May 2009

   •  January 5, 2008 - National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission (created by Congress) releases Transportation for Tomorrow: Final Report.

   •  February 26, 2009 - National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission (created by Congress) releases Paying Our Way: A New Framework for Transportation Finance (4.5 MB).

   •  May 14, 2009 - Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) introduce S 1036, The Federal Surface Transportation Policy and Planning Act of 2009, proposing a plan and mission statement for the Authorization

Select Federal Action, June/July 2009

   •  June 2, 2009 – Future Federal Highway Administration Administrator Victor M. Mendez announces in his nomination hearing that the Department of Transportation foresees a $5-7 billion dollar shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund over FY 2009 and $8-10 billion more over FY 2010. His statement plus archived video of the hearing is available on the Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee website.

   •  June 17, 2009 – Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood releases statement proposing an immediate 18-month highway reauthorization that will replenish the Highway Trust Fund.

   •  June 18, 2009 – House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee releases white paper outlining a "Blueprint for Investment and Reform" of the Surface Transportation program.  Their website contains the 775-page Blueprint (1.3 MB), an executive summary, and a “framework” document outlining program consolidation plans, among other documents. Estimated bill cost is $450 billion over 6 years, plus $50 billion for high-speed rail, and it consolidates or terminates 75 programs. The Blueprint leaves finance questions to House Ways & Means Committee.

   •  June 24, 2009 – T&I Democratic committee members write a letter to the Obama administration opposing the 18-month extension proposal. 

   •  July 1, 2009 – White House writes memorandum to the Hill detailing its proposal to provide $20 billion to shore up the Highway Trust Fund and make some reforms.

   •  July 15, 2009 – Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee passes S.G.W. 117 (text not made available to the public), a “clean” 18-month extension of SAFETEA-LU programs.

   •  July 23, 2009 – House Ways & Means Committee holds hearing to examine finances of the Highway Trust Fund. T&I Highways Subcommittee Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), one among several panelists, proposes three means of long-term financing.

   •  July 29, 2009 – House of Representatives votes 363-68 to pass HR 3357, a bill that deposits $7 billion into the Highway Trust Fund from the federal government's General Fund and ensure states will continue receiving full reimbursements for federal-aid highway projects through the end of the fiscal year, September 30, 2009.

   •  July 30, 2009 – Pressed by the impending Trust Fund shortfall and the House August recess date, Senate votes 79-17 for passage of HR 3357, providing a short term fix with no reauthorizing language.


Government Accountability Office Reports (oldest first)

March 6, 2008 – "Surface Transportation: Restructured Federal Approach Needed for More Focused, Performance-Based, and Sustainable Programs"

June 29, 2008 – "Surface Transportation Programs: Proposals Highlight Key Issues and Challenges in Restructuring the Programs"

June 25, 2009 – "Highway Trust Fund: Options for Improving Sustainability and Mechanisms to Manage Solvency"


Other State & Local Organizations of Elected Officials

National Governors' Association – Surface Transportation Policy

Council of State Governments – Transportation & Infrastructure Finance: A CSG National Report - 2009 (1.5 MB)

U.S. Conference of Mayors – Press Release commending the inclusion of a Metropolitan Mobility Program in the T&I Blueprint - June 18, 2009


Stakeholders and Other Interested Parties

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety – Federal Program Page

American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) – Surface Transportation Policy and Legislation Page

American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) – Bottom Line Report (identifying investment needs) and "Creating America's Future Transportation System" Policy 
     Summary Series

American Bus Association – Surface Transportation Reauthorization Issue Page

American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) – Surface Transportation Reauthorization Advocacy Page

American Highway Users Alliance – Reauthorization Analysis and Comment Page

American Public Transportation Association (APTA) – Recommendations on Federal Public Transportation Authorizing Law

American Public Works Association (APWA) – Reinvesting in America's Transportation System Website (includes outreach toolkit)

American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) – Recommendations for Reauthorization: A New Vision & Mission for America's Federal Surface Transportation Program (includes 
     testimony, reports, and background on ARTBA's Critical Commerce Corridors initiative)

American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) – Authorization Policy: A Blueprint for Success

American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA) – Toward Zero Deaths SAFETEA-LU Reauthorization Policy (1.5 MB)

Americans for Transportation Mobility coalition (led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce)

Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America – Infrastructure Investment Advocacy Page

Building America's Future coalition (co-chaired by Mayor Bloomberg, Governors Rendell and Schwartzenegger)

Freight Stakeholders Coalition (17 stakeholders, main point of contact at AAPA) – 2009 Surface Transportation Reauthorization Platform

Innobriefs – Ken Orski

Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) – Policy Recommendations—Authorization of the U.S. Surface Transportation Program

Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITSA) – Authorization Priorities Advocacy Page

National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) – 2009 Federal Surface Transportation Reauthorization Issue Brief

National Association of Regional Councils (NARC) – Transportation Authorization Information and Materials Page

National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) – Surface Transportation Reauthorization Position Paper

National Transportation Policy Project (NTPP) of the Bipartisan Policy Center – Performance Driven: A New Vision for U.S. Transportation Policy

Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC) (co-chaired by ARTBA and AGC)

Transportation For America (T4 America) coalition (co-chaired by Smart Growth America and Reconnecting America) – Blueprint: The Route to Reform

Updated as of  March 6, 2012.