On April 30, the U.S. Department of Transportation released the GROW America Act, the administration’s proposed highway plan.
The act has little chance of being passed by Congress, because the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives are each working on separate bills. The Senate bill is expected as early as this week.
However, the proposal is important because it lays out President Barack Obama’s transportation priorities.
Regarding the act, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said: “While Secretary Foxx’s proposal is not perfect, it launches a necessary discussion between the Obama Administration and Congress on the need to find a long-term, bipartisan solution to address the growing infrastructure crisis in our country.”
How did motorcyclists fare in the first formal salvo of the surface transportation reauthorization?
Like most proposals, there are sections to like and dislike.
On the upside, the proposal would re-authorize the Recreational Trails Program, an $85 million program that funds motorized recreational trails. This program is funded by the excise tax that off-highway-vehicle users pay when fueling an OHV.
Additionally, it would boost funding by 22 percent for the highway trust fund by using tax revenue generated from a one-time repatriation of corporate profits. While additional funds would be diverted for public transportation and other programs, highway maintenance/construction would increase leading to safer, better maintained roads.
Finally, the proposal would increase the funding for intelligent transportation systems, often referred to as V2V communications. Recently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that motorcycles will be included in future research related to ITS/V2V.
However, the motorcycling community would face new challenges if the administration’s proposal, as currently written, were passed into law.
Under this plan, states would be given much more flexibility to create tolls on interstate highways.
The AMA opposes tolling because it pushes commercial vehicles off interstate highways and onto roads (often favored by motorcyclists) that were not designed to handle large volumes of traffic. As a result, these roads are less safe for motorcyclists.
Perhaps most importantly, the DOT’s plan would unleash NHTSA to "engage in activities with States and State legislators to consider proposals related to motorcycle helmet use laws."
In previous highway bills the AMA has worked hard to ensure that NHTSA – and other federal agencies – are not using taxpayer dollars to lobby state governments in favor of mandatory helmet laws or other provisions that would limit motorcycling freedoms.
The current bill – MAP-21 – that authorizes many safety and maintenance programs will expire Sept. 31.
The GROW America Act is the first step toward passing a comprehensive surface transportation bill. The AMA will continue working in Washington, D.C., to eliminate the extended tolling authority, continue the NHTSA lobby ban and insert language preventing federal funding for motorcycle-only checkpoints – from H.R. 1861 and S. 2078 – into the final law.