House Passes Scenic Byways, Route 66 Centennial, FRA Inspection Notification Bills

February 8, 2019

On February 6, the U.S. House of Representatives passed five bills from the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Three of the five bills were significant for the transportation sector as they would improve oversight of rail safety, protect scenic byways, and establish a commission to commemorate Route 66.

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Peter DeFazio (D-OR) said, “I applaud Chair Norton (D-DC), Ranking Member Davis (R-IL), and Representatives Sires (D-NJ) and Cicilline (D-RI) for their work to move these important bills forward… I encourage the Senate to take up these bills and look forward to seeing them signed into law.”

H.R. 543 – To require the Federal Railroad Administration to provide appropriate congressional notice of comprehensive safety assessments conducted with respect to intercity or commuter rail passenger transportation (Rep. Albio Sires)

Under H.R. 543, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is required to provide Members of Congress with notice when a comprehensive safety assessment is being conducted on an intercity or commuter rail transit agency that serves their district. This notice must happen no later than 10 business days after the FRA initiates an assessment. Additionally, no later than 90 days after completion of the assessment, the FRA is responsible for sharing the findings of the assessment and any recommendations.

This bill has its roots in the September 2016 New Jersey Transit train crash in the Hoboken station – Sires saidwhen re-introducing this bill last month that, at the time of the crash, Members of Congress were unaware that FRA was in the process of performing a “deep audit” of NJT safety.

H.R. 543 passed the House by voice vote.

H.R. 831 – Reviving America’s Scenic Byways Act of 2019 (Rep. David Cicilline)

The National Scenic Byways Program was created in 1991 and has helped designate and provide funding for 150 scenic roads across the country. In 2012, the dedicated funding for the National Scenic Byways Program was consolidated into larger formula programs, and the Department of Transportation was to continue to designate roads. However, no new scenic byways have been designated since the initial program was eliminated in 2012.

H.R. 831 reinsures that there is a process for states, tribes, and federal land management agencies to request National Scenic Byways designations for qualifying roads. The criteria for scenic byways are based on having one or more archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, or scenic qualities that capture the unique characteristics of a region.

Rep. Garrett Graves (R-LA), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Aviation and co-sponsor of the legislation, stated, “The National Scenic Byways Program is a national asset that showcases our Nation’s natural grandeur, our history, and our culture, as well as being a very significant economic driver of tourism. It has been identified by Brand USA, the organization created by Congress to promote travel to the United States, as a core element in promoting international visitation to the United States and creating tourism-related jobs.”

H.R. 831 passed the House by a roll call vote of 404 yeas, 19 nays.

H.R. 66 – Route 66 Centennial Commission Act (Rep. Rodney Davis)

This bill establishes a Route 66 Centennial Commission to honor Route 66 and make plans to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the road in 2026.  The Act outlines the number of members of the Commission, how these members will be appointed, and their duties and powers.

“[Route 66] holds a unique place in our Nation’s surface transportation history,” said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC). “The story of Route 66 serves as an important reminder as to why our interconnected system of roads is vital and why we can never devolve to a piecemeal approach to surface transportation policy.”

Norton, Grace Napolitano (D-CA), and Rodney Davis (R-IL), highlighted the economic benefits of Route 66, particularly focusing on the local businesses and deep-rooted symbolism of Route 66 for many communities. Napolitano, co-sponsor of the legislation, said, “States and local governments across the country are reinvesting in Route 66 as an icon of American history and culture. The federal government should be involved in this effort as well. I thank Congressman Davis for reintroducing this legislation with me and helping move this bill quickly at the start of this Congress.”

H.R. 66 passed the House by a roll call vote of 399 to 22.

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