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U.S. Transportation Policy: Top of Mind for 2024

Transportation bills are bipartisan policy measures that usually generate strong support in the U.S. Congress. In 2024, the expiration of several transportation related authorizations, as well as funding for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), will compel Congress to act. For each expiring transportation measure the question will be: can Congress agree to a long-term authorization/appropriation or will an extension be required to allow time for them to continue to work through policy differences?

Below is a breakdown of several transportation bills that are top of mind in 2024, key insights into how the process works, and the most likely outcomes to help plan a government affairs strategy.

DOT Fiscal Year 2024 Appropriations:

DOT operates the nation’s air traffic control system; regulates aviation, commercial trucking, and motor vehicle safety; and provides grants to support aviation, highway, transit, and passenger rail infrastructure as well as highway, maritime, and pipeline safety.

While congressional leaders announced a deal on a $1.59 trillion topline number for all federal spending in fiscal year 2024, the House and Senate remain at odds over how much to spend and key policies to support within each agency. For DOT agencies, funding expires on January 19, 2024. Even if another short-term funding extension through early March 2024 is passed in order to avert a shutdown, there are many unresolved controversial issues, such as Amtrak funding and infrastructure for electric vehicle charging stations, at play to reconcile major policy differences in short order.

The most likely outcome for DOT appropriations in 2024 will be passage of the Fiscal Year 2024 bill in early March. Congressional offices will begin accepting Fiscal Year 2025 appropriations project requests in early spring.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization:

The last long-term FAA reauthorization bill expired on September 30, 2023. Congress extended it twice in 2023 to allow more time for the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation to work through issues related to pilot training and retirement age. The full House passed a five year FAA reauthorization bill (H.R. 3935) in July 2023, and patience with the Senate is running out among aviation industry groups and House lawmakers. This is evidenced by a series of stakeholder sign-on letters urging the Senate Committee to markup their FAA reauthorization bill, S.1939, and to Senate leadership to bring that bill to the floor. Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have both said the FAA bill is a top priority for the new year.

A possible outcome is the Senate Committee waits until they are briefed by federal aviation safety officials regarding the door plug blowout on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 jet fuselage to determine if additional oversight related language is needed in a manager’s amendment. This could lead to a committee markup in January 2024; followed by Senate passage before the next FAA funding deadline expires on March 8, 2024. Even under that scenario, it is likely one more FAA extension would be needed to allow time for a House and Senate conference to reconcile the differences between H.R. 3935 and S.1939 and pass a final bill to send to the President.

Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA):

In December 2023, the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) approved a four year bill (H.R. 6494) to authorize PHMSA’s safety programs which enforces regulations for 3.3 million miles of pipelines and shipments of hazardous materials. Although authorities for PHMSA’s safety programs lapsed on September 30, 2023, the agency can still operate and receive funding under its expired authorization and subject to any instructions in an appropriations act. In such cases, PHMSA looks to legislative history to indicate that Congress did not intend for its programs to terminate.

Next steps: H.R. 6494 will need to get input from the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which also has jurisdiction over PHMSA reauthorization, and can then pass the full House. The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation needs to introduce their bill, a task expected to take place in 2024.

Separate from the long-term authorization for PHMSA, but related to the agency’s ability to carry out its functions, is the record-long vacancy in agency leadership. Tristan Brown has been running PHMSA since February 2021, but only as the acting/deputy administrator. As the 2024 presidential election approaches, it becomes increasingly less likely that a PHMSA nominee will be announced.

Water Resources Development Act (WRDA):

Congress has passed bipartisan WRDA legislation every two years since 2014. WRDA projects authorize U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works projects to improve national, regional, and local ports, harbors, inland waterways, flood and storm protection, and other water resources infrastructure. These projects originate at the local level and go through a rigorous vetting process before they may be considered for inclusion in a WRDA bill.

The House T&I Committee is in the process of gathering information and input for developing and passing a WRDA bill in 2024. House T&I Committee Chair Sam Graves (R-MO) said his priorities for the bill are flood control and river navigation infrastructure. The panel has already held three WRDA-related hearings and lawmakers have met with stakeholders, as well as considered the status of past provisions and future needs.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) also started work on a 2024 WRDA bill, holding its first hearing in July 2023. Senate offices were required to provide any project requests to the EPW Committee staff last fall.

Congress will likely pass a final WRDA bill by the summer.

“China Competition 2.0”, supply chain bill:

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is working with other congressional lawmakers to write a bipartisan China competition bill that builds on provisions enacted in the research and semiconductor manufacturing CHIPS package. The 2.0 bill will likely include provisions aimed at strengthening U.S. manufacturing sectors for electric vehicles and clean energy in an attempt to stop U.S. reliance on Chinese infrastructure, transportation and energy supply chains.

While both chambers will hold hearings and roundtables on the subject, the House intends to focus on stand-alone, targeted bills that can attract bipartisan support. The House legislation will likely address specific transportation issues, such as trucking, ocean shipping, permitting and infrastructure. T&I already approved 17 supply chain bills last May and more proposals are expected.

Interested in discussing how transportation policy priorities may impact your organization? Book a consultation with Sarah Blackwood to learn more.

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