IIJA Oversight and Implementation: Insights and Updates

On Wednesday, December 13, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit met to discuss the oversight and implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (IIJA). The subcommittee called on several key officials from the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) to provide insights and updates on the progress of implementing the IIJA throughout the various modes covered by the subcommittee. 

In the two years since the implementation of the IIJA, USDOT has made significant investments across its transportation modes, and the hearing on Wednesday served as a check-in for its progress to date and opportunity to discuss the Congressional oversight of the IIJA. 

The hearing, titled “Oversight of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act: Modal Perspectives,” allowed members of the subcommittee to engage with the Undersecretary and Administrators on many issues related to the implementation and oversight of the IIJA. 

List of Witnesses: 

  • Carlos Monje, Undersecretary of Transportation for Policy, Office of the Secretary of Transportation, United States Department of Transportation 
  • Shailen Bhatt, Administrator, Federal Highway Administration, United States Department of Transportation 
  • Nuria Fernandez, Administrator, Federal Transit Administration, United States Department of Transportation 
  • Robin Hutcheson, Administrator, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, United States Department of Transportation 
  • Ann Carlson, Acting Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, United States Department of Transportation 

It has been over two years since the IIJA, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, was enacted by Congress and signed into law by the President in November 2021. The legislation represents one of the largest investments in infrastructure in the United States to date, at around $1.2 trillion. As noted by Administrator Bhatt, the IIJA is a “once in a generation” investment, that covers every mode of transportation in every corner of the country. The IIJA includes many grant programs that target different issues from rural transportation to intercity passenger rail.  

In his opening statement, Undersecretary Monje emphasized accountability, responsibility, and financial stewardship as guiding principles for the USDOT’s implementation of the IIJA. After the second full year, Monje pointed out that IIJA funding has gone to tens of thousands of projects, with millions of dollars being announced regularly in federal funding for various formula and competitive grant programs. Earlier this week, the Biden administration announced around $645 million in awards through the Rural Surface Transportation Grant program, with money going towards projects in Georgia, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Maine, among others. Monje also applauded a recent announcement of $817 million for the Safe Streets and Roads for All program. That funding will go towards safety improvements at intersections, bus stops, railroad crossings, and along streets to achieve the USDOT’s goal of zero roadway fatalities. 

Across each of the modal administrations, witnesses highlighted the significant federal investments that have allowed for projects across the board. For the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the IIJA has set aside $350 billion. Administrator Bhatt recognized the value of that federal funding in allowing FHWA to invest in thousands of projects across various grant programs to improve highway infrastructure, safety and provide technical assistance to state and local governments. In response to highway incidents in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, the FHWA announced “quick releases” of emergency funding to assist states in getting I-10 and I-95 repaired and reopened. Bhatt emphasized that the administration is focused on streamlined delivery with new teams to oversee grant programs. With the breadth of funding, Bhatt recognized that having a streamlined process is critical to get projects delivered on time.  

Like FHWA, the IIJA includes historic funding for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). As noted by Administrator Fernandez, the $108 billion set aside for FTA is the largest investment in public transportation in the nation’s history. According to Fernandez, the funding has allowed the FTA to continue its commitment to improving and expanding good quality, sustainable, and equitable public transit for communities across the country. The FTA announced around $400 million under the Capital Investments Grants program for transit modernization projects in Minneapolis and Pittsburgh. Additionally, Fernandez noted the importance of improving public transit options for rural and tribal communities.  

Administrator Hutcheson noted that federal investment has strengthened the ability of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to support the safety of drivers across the country. The $3.2 billion included in the IIJA for the FMCSA is going towards safety improvement programs, training programs, and recently, $44 million to improve the commercial driver’s licenses process. The administration also established Operation Protect Your Move, which aims to address nationwide household moving scams.  

Safety is also a priority for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). New rulemaking for Automatic Emergency Braking systems, investments in emerging technologies, and enforcement of vehicle safety measures are all part of the scope of the Administration’s goal of zero roadway fatalities, strengthened by a 50 percent budget increase.  

In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chair Rick Crawford (R-AR) noted that the subcommittee had not called on modal administrators since 2019. Rep. Crawford noted that recent inflationary pressures have decreased the purchasing power of IIJA funding and noted his concern over slowed progress of project delivery. He urged that the discussion include insight on spending federal dollars carefully and wisely. Ranking members Eleanor Holmes-Norton (subcommittee, D-DC) and Rick Larsen (full committee, D-WA) pointed to the significant funding for projects in Washington DC and Washington state, as examples of the successes of IIJA funding. They applauded USDOT efforts and encouraged a conversation about what more needs to be done.  

Emissions 

Sustainability and climate-friendly policies have been a priority for the Biden Administration, and an important consideration for the IIJA infrastructure investments. Projects and policies are being created to encourage the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA) noted the Carbon Reduction and PROTECT programs as ways to improve transportation resiliency and asked about how agencies are working with states to take advantage of programs focused on reducing emissions. In response, Undersecretary Monje and Administrator Bhatt pointed to federal investments, including $27.5 billion in climate-related funding and the commitment from the IIJA to reducing GHG emissions. Rep. Larsen noted the push for low-emissions ferries in Washington and Administrator Fernandez responded that low-emissions ferries are critical for coastal communities and support environmental goals of the administration.  

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) inquired about the challenges facing battery electric buses and what support is needed to ensure transit agencies can acquire zero or low-emissions systems. Administrator Fernandez cited additional funding for vehicles and helping agencies apply for funding, as well as additional funding for training programs. Undersecretary Monje added that working with manufacturers is key. Procurement for low or zero-emission buses has become an increasingly critical issue for transit agencies, following the bankruptcy of Proterra Inc, a large manufacturer of electric buses.  

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) inquired about a topic related to emissions – the FHWA cost allocation study. He urged the committee and witnesses to think about the externalities associated with car ownership. Undersecretary Monje echoed those concerns, stating the importance of understanding the costs and benefits of highways. (Ed. Note: The discussion of whether or not highway cost allocation studies should include externalities, or indirect costs incurred by road use, as well as direct costs, is a very old one. See CBO’s discussion of this issue on page 10 of their 1978 recommendations for parameters of the 1982 cost allocation study.)

Several members, including Chair Crawford and Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), noted concerns over new emissions performance measures. The new rule from FHWA establishes a GHG performance measure for state DOTs and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) aimed at assessing carbon dioxide emissions from highways. Rep. Crawford (R-AR) noted that the language specifically authorizing a GHG performance measure was rejected during IIJA negotiations, and voiced concern over its validity. In response, Administrator Bhatt emphasized the Administration is consistent and following the law. He noted that the authority to establish performance measures comes from the earlier surface transportation authorization, the 2012 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century law (MAP-21). Crawford pushed back, stating that the measure is a deliberate move against the direct language of the IIJA. 

Emerging Technology 

In recent years, the world of transportation has witnessed a growth in new and emerging technologies. Among them, electric vehicles (EV) and EV infrastructure have been at the forefront of many transportation conversations. As EV ownership increases, the demand for EV charging stations across the country is steadily increasing. Several representatives inquired about the rollout of EV charging stations, many voicing concerns over the delay in getting EV charging stations online. Just this week, Ohio unveiled the first charging station funded through the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program.

The program received $7.5 billion through the IIJA. Rep. Larsen voiced concern with the slow rollout of charging stations, as did Rep. Rudy Yakym (R-IN), who voiced concern that only one charging station has come online in the past two years. Administrator Bhatt noted that in the coming years, more charging stations will come online. He added that one in four dollars from the $1.2 trillion in IIJA funding moves through FHWA. In response to another EV infrastructure improvement question from Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-OH), Administrator Bhatt added that in two years, the number of EV charger manufacturers went from 0 to 43, suggesting that important efforts are going towards establishing a domestic manufacturing presence of electric chargers as well as rolling out charging stations.  

Several members inquired about other recent technologies such as autonomous vehicles (AVs) and artificial intelligence (AI). With these emerging technologies, members asked about best practices agencies are thinking about. In response to a question by Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-IL) on AV technology, Acting Administrator Carlson noted that states can make rules about the vehicles on the road, while NHTSA has authority to recall vehicles that have faulty technologies. She later added in response to Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA) that it is imperative for the administration to coordinate with state and local partners to regulate new AV technology. Administrator Bhatt and Undersecretary Monje echoed similar sentiments in response to Rep. Marcus Molinaro (R-NY), stating that the Administration must be careful with AI, which is useful but must be deployed in a safe and secure manner. Administrator Hutcheson added that there is a growing interest in AI and the trucking industry, with the need to be cognizant of the impact AI can have.  

Safety 

Several issues relating to safety were raised during the hearing, including brake lights, Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) systems, school bus operations, transit worker safety, traffic fatalities, AVs, and fraud. Several members including Chair Crawford (R-AR), Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), and Rep. Mike Collins (R-GA) noted concerns over braking systems. The proposed rule would require emergency braking systems for trucks and passenger vehicles, which are projected to reduce fatalities and injuries, especially from rear-end collisions. Representatives noted concerns over mandating expensive and novel technology, citing that “hope is not a good business plan.” Acting Administrator Carlson noted that this technology can save lives and the Administration is focused on ensuring the safety of drivers across the country.  

Responding to Rep. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Administrator Fernandez emphasized the importance of transit worker safety and made note of a proposed rule on transit worker safety. She added that it is critical to take advantage of existing authority to direct transit agencies in implementing safety strategies.  

There was discussion on the improvement of safety infrastructure to secure the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists. Administrator Bhatt and Acting Administrator Carlson noted that there are various efforts within USDOT to ensure that safety infrastructure is put in place to reduce pedestrian and bicyclist injuries or fatalities. These include braking system requirements, as well as expanding protected bike lanes. The Safe Streets for All Grant program is one such grant program aimed at the safety of roadway users. 

Speed Limiter Concerns 

Several members throughout the hearing voiced concerns over a speed limiter issue. In 2022, the FMCSA released a notice of intent for a proposed rulemaking to impose speed limitations on commercial motor vehicles. The administration cited speed as a significant factor in fatal crashes. Representatives Mike Bost (R-IL), Troy Nehls (R-TX), Eric Burlison (R-MO), Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ), Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), and Mike Collins (R-GA) voiced several concerns that reducing speed limits would cause more harm than good. Many stated that drivers may need to use speed to avoid dangerous situations in a short amount of time. Administrator Hutcheson indicated that speed was a factor in fatal crashes and the administration is conducting a regulatory analysis to understand this issue. Hutcheson added that the administration is fully committed to the safety of drivers, noting she personally understands the value of drivers, having ridden alongside many truck drivers. While the representatives noted that a particular speed limitation would not be beneficial, Hutcheson repeatedly noted that the administration has not yet set a particular speed limit. The limit would only be set following an extensive and comprehensive regulatory analysis of the issue. The speed limiter issue was also raised during a recent hearing focused on roadway safety that occurred on November 7th held by the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure under the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works.  

General Federal Funding/Oversight 

Throughout the hearing, the witnesses provided insights into the general role of the federal government touching on the permitting process, investments in equity, uses of federal funding, and updates on specific programs.  

The permitting process issue has emerged in several hearings, and in response to a question from brand-new Rep. Celeste Maloy (R-UT), Administrators Bhatt and Fernandez stated that their administrations are working with the permitting process to ensure projects are delivered on time. 

Rep. Valerie Foushee (D-NC) asked witnesses to discuss the efforts to expand equitable investments. The representative pointed to various programs such as the Neighborhood Access and Equity Grant program, which is aimed at redressing the harms of past infrastructure on traditionally disadvantaged communities, and building infrastructure in those communities that were left behind. Undersecretary Monje emphasized that for USDOT, equity translates into making jobs available to more people, ensuring access to people with disabilities, being cognizant of the costs/burdens of projects, and ensuring people are involved in the decision-making process. Rep. Brandon Williams (R-NY) noted a concern about transparency and excluding members of the public from the discussion about infrastructure improvements. Monje agreed that transparency is key and that it is paramount to include the voice of the community.  

Representatives touched on the use of federal funding, including the opportunities to use federal funding for transit operations. In response to Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Fernandez noted that currently, large urban transit systems (those in areas with a population exceeding 200,000) cannot use federal dollars for operations. However, the administrator noted that in the 2024 budget request includes greater flexibility for local governments to “flex” their federal capital formula funds for transit operations. The goal of this adjustment is assisting transit agencies at a time when many agencies are facing a fiscal cliff. Administrator Fernandez emphasized that transit is essential and that agencies provide access to good service. Undersecretary Monje added later in the hearing that part of the mission is ensuring communities can get the funds that are available to them. It will be important for USDOT to help communities understand how to access federal dollars, which Rep. Burgess Owens (R-UT) noted in his questioning.  

Build/ Buy America 

The discussion during the hearing saw a couple of heated moments, regarding “build America buy America” ideas. Rep. Pete Stauber (R-MN) indicated that the critical minerals used in electric chargers are sourced in other countries such as China. The representative noted his frustration with the idea that some material is brought in from China to build American infrastructure. Similarly, Rep. Derrick Van Orden (R-WI) noted his frustration and anger over the cobalt used in steel and battery production, citing an at-present global issue with mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that supposedly use child labor. 

Other Issues 

Representatives asked for clarifications and insights over specific issues including the Right to Repair law in Massachusetts, tolling issues in Oregon, I-10 improvements in Arizona, the Safe Driver Apprenticeship program, and California High Speed Rail.  

Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) voiced his appreciation for the witnesses. In place of asking questions, the representative took his five minutes to thank the witnesses for their efforts in implementing the IIJA. Given the number of recent programs, rules, and funding, Garamendi reflected that the rollout has gone well so far and applauded the efforts of the Undersecretary and Modal Administrators.  

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