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State and Federal Policy

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In the United States, 80% of people live in cities and urbanized areas. Today, America’s cities and the people who live in them are struggling, and are facing the intertwined crises of a global pandemic, systemic racism, and accelerating climate change.

Transportation connects people to opportunities. Resetting our country’s transportation priorities has the promise to set the stage for a just, sustainable recovery. Here’s how we do it.

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Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act: Overview for Cities

Background

On November 15, President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law. The $1.2 trillion bill covers many aspects of infrastructure from transportation to water to broadband to electricity, with over $567 billion going to discretionary and formula programs under USDOT’s jurisdiction between FY 2022 and FY 2026. The IIJA contains language from S.1913 or the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act (SRTA), consisting of the EPW Committee’s highway title and the Commerce Committee’s rail title, to reauthorize the federal surface transportation program.

The majority of funding in the bill will flow directly to state transportation departments with a significant portion reserved for new, USDOT-administered discretionary grant programs. 

Read more about these changes in our IIJA Overview for Cities

Major Policy Changes

  • Local Control: In a step forward for cities seeking to streamline design and complete streets processes, the IIJA contains a new provision granting cities authority to apply an approved design guide of their choice to federally-funded projects on locally-owned streets. This language establishes that when states administer Federal funds to cities, they are neither required nor permitted to require cities to comply with state design standards or safety policy. (Section 11129). Learn more about how to adopt NACTO design guides in your city >>
  • MUTCD: Under this bill, USDOT must consider recommendations from the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD), a non-governmental body, when updating the Manual. The language also directs USDOT to consider the protection of vulnerable road users and autonomous vehicles in its update. (Section 11135)
  • Complete Streets: MPOs must use 2.5 percent of their overall funding to develop and adopt complete streets policies, active transportation plans, transit access plans, transit-oriented development plans, or regional intercity rail plans. Similarly, states must reserve 2.5 percent of State Planning and Research funds for the same purposes. However, these policies do not have to be included in state or MPO spending plans. (Section 11206)
  • NEPA Reform: The IIJA streamlines 4(f) reviews by limiting the allowable number of pages for a decision and requiring a single federal agency to be responsible for issuing a decision resulting from a NEPA review. (Section 11316)
  • Crash Data: The IIJA requires new crash data systems to distinguish between bicycles, electric scooters, and wheelchairs. (Section 24108)
  • Vehicle Safety: This bill requires the Secretary to update NCAP, hood, and bumper safety standards to consider the safety of people outside a vehicle, with an emphasis on crash avoidance technologies. (Section 24214). NACTO called for this change and further action.
  • Local Hiring: The IIJA ends prohibitions on local hiring and allows recipients of federal transportation grants to implement a local hiring preference for construction work. (Section 25019)

Competitive Grant and FHWA/FTA Formula Programs

The IIJA creates over $150 billion worth of discretionary grant programs, giving USDOT an extraordinary opportunity to direct these new funds to projects that will advance safety, equity, and climate goals. 

Read more in our overview (pdf) >>

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Focus Areas

Give cities the authority they need to build responsive, impactful, and multimodal projects

Safe, convenient, and reliable transportation is the bedrock of a functioning city. Despite this, cities are not in control of their own transportation funding, and decisions that affect their residents are made outside of local hands.

For  cities to achieve the best outcomes for their residents, Congress must empower cities in the following ways:

  • Cities need authority to direct funding to their priorities;
  • Cities need authority to approve or prevent project designs and construction of projects in their jurisdiction;
  • Cities need should have access to the same accelerated project delivery processes as states;
  • Cities need a mechanism to participate in decisions about projects located outside their jurisdiction but that impact them.

Read NACTO and Transportation for America’s policy proposals to ensure federal transportation funding meets local needs (pdf) >>

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the part of USDOT charged with motor vehicle safety standards. It has broad authority to regulate the design and technology used in motor vehicles sold in the United States. The agency writes and adopts the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) and other regulations. It also encourages the collection of crash data through the Model Minimum Uniform Crash Criteria.

NHTSA’s approach to vehicle regulation needs to expand its scope from a limited consumer-protection approach to a holistic public health approach that protects all road users.

Traffic fatalities for vehicle occupants have largely held steady over the last decade, while traffic deaths for people outside of vehicles (pedestrians and bicyclists) have skyrocketed by more than 50% since 2009. Vehicle standards have failed to protect those outside of vehicles, resulting in thousands of preventable deaths each year. Especially in multimodal urban environments, vehicle design and regulation is critical to ensuring safe operations and movement.

Read NACTO’s recommendations for reforms to NHTSA safety regulations (pdf) >>

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Policy Priorities

Priorities for Federal Design Guidance:

NACTO’s Policy Platform:

  1. Eliminate traffic fatalities and injuries by making safety transportation’s top priority.
  2. End the racist legacy of transportation policy and planning and build an equitable, accessible transportation system.
  3. Prioritize and expand transit to meet the nation’s current and future mobility and access needs.
  4. Lead the transition to a low-carbon transportation system.
  5. Modernize transportation funding.
  6. Enable local control over project selection and development.
  7. Research and leverage emerging technologies to advance public policy priorities.

See the full 2022 NACTO policy platform (pdf) >

Letters to Congress

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Press & Statements

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