Legislators are hoping to make significant progress on the FAST Act (Transportation) re-authorization before the congressional recess in August, but it is unclear whether that progress will result in a bill markup by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works or move closer to a floor vote.
On April 11, Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) introduced the Addressing Underdeveloped and Tribally Operated Streets (AUTOS) Act. The Act, S.1211, aims to improve federal funding procedures for road safety and repairs in Indian Country. Joining Sen. Hoeven, the bill’s cosponsors are Sens. Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND). Senator. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs that Senator Hoeven chairs.
Tribal transportation authorities currently receive a majority of funding under the Tribal Transportation Program (TTP), which is jointly managed by the BIA and Federal Highway Administration. TTP initially received $465M in fiscal year 2016 under the FAST Act, the current legislation for transportation funding. With the FAST Act set to authorize $505M for the next fiscal year and expire in September 2020, the AUTOS Act’s sponsors see an opportunity to streamline the federal funding process and to address the increasing maintenance backlog for roads, bridges, and safety features on tribal lands.
The Act’s main impact for tribal transportation budgets is the additional $16M in funding that it would add to any amount included in a FAST Act reauthorization for fiscal year 2021. This figure would increase by $2M each year with a total of $24M for the 2025 fiscal year. The BIA Road Maintenance Program would receive separate dedicated funding of $46M for the 2021 fiscal year and end with $54M for fiscal year 2025.
The AUTOS Act would allow the Secretary of Interior to create categorical exclusions from environmental review similar to those already established by the Department of Transportation. For safety projects that still require review, the Secretary or other supervising federal official will have to use the shortest timeline possible to report back to the Indian tribe proposing the project. Under the proposed bill, Tribes also can enter into agreements to conduct environmental reviews for TTP funded projects.
The AUTOS Act would also start a federal initiative to standardize crash reports for tribal road accidents and study road maintenance best practices. Read AUTOS Act