After a 13-month delay and enactment of three separate extensions, Congress finally passed a surface transportation reauthorization bill. This bill, sometimes called the highway bill or the infrastructure bill, has been a hotly debated topic in D.C. for several years. Once signed by the President, the bill will reauthorize many highway programs, provide funding for road and bridge construction and replace the previous highway bill passed in 2015, known as the FAST Act.
Just a week ago, Congress gave itself a third extension running into December. Yet election victories by Republican candidates, especially a win by the GOP in the Virginia governor’s race, seems to have spooked Democrats, and motivated passage of a bill that has been awaiting a vote since the summer.
For the last two years, the House of Representatives and Senate have battled over transportation priorities and funding levels. In both 2020 and 2021, the House of Representatives passed versions of their highway bill, only to be rebuffed by the Senate. Under pressure from President Biden, the Senate finally acted, passing in August a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. This action by the Senate, effectively forced the House to accept the Senate version of the bill or continue to pass short term extensions of current law.
However, pressure from the left wing of the Democratic party delayed a vote on the Senate’s infrastructure bill until an unconnected piece of legislation, referred to as the “human infrastructure bill,” was agreed to. That bill, called “Build Back Better,” had an original price tag of $3.5 trillion and effectively held the infrastructure bill hostage. After months of debate, and Tuesday’s election results, House Democrats agreed to vote on a smaller Build Back Better bill later in the month, opening the door to a final vote on the infrastructure bill.
At 11:27pm Friday night, the House agreed to the Senate’s bill and passed a $1.2 trillion 5-year highway bill, known as the INVEST ACT. The final vote in the House was 228 to 206, with 13 Republicans voting in favor and 6 Democrats voting against.
While not a perfect bill, there are victories for bikers contained in the 2,740 pages of legislation.
First and foremost, the Motorcyclist Advisory Council (MAC) will be reestablished with this new law. The MAC is a forum, within the U.S. Department of Transportation, specifically focused on motorcycle issues. The council is required to provide biannual reports to Congress on three critical areas:
Importantly, the new MAC will have expanded membership of 13 members, including one designated member from a “National Motorcyclist Foundation.”
Second, grant money allocated to states through the Section 405 funds, specifically dedicated to motorcycle safety, will be increased with this new law. In 2021, approximately $4.2 million dollars was distributed to states for motorcycle safety programs. With this new law, close to $5.1 million dollars will be set aside for grants related to motorcycle safety programs in 2022.
Last year 45 states applied for and were given money for the education and implementation of motorcycle safety programs. The five-year length of this bill will see those funds continue to grow year over year, providing important resources to states for safety training.
Finally, the bill leaves unchanged hard-fought provisions from past highway bills. These include the ban on using federal funds to create motorcycle only check points and a prohibition on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) actively lobbying state governments on pending legislation.
It is unfortunate that it took 13 months from the original expiration date of September 30, 2020, to finally pass a new highway bill. This bill does not meet all the needs of bikers, but it does take some positive steps to ensure motorcyclists remain part of the transportation network. With your help, the Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF) will continue to fight for motorcyclists’ priorities left unaddressed in this bill. Issues related to the profiling of bikers, autonomous vehicles and ethanol regulations are just a few of the areas that this bill falls short on. The MRF is committed to these priorities and remains the voice of the street rider in Washington, D.C.