The FAST Act: Building a 21st Century Transportation System

By scholarship award winner Elena Carter

“Americans travel more than 2 trillion miles annually. But conditions on the system are deteriorating, as the need for transportation improvements far outpaces the amount of state and federal funding available” states Carolyn Kelly, the associate director for communication at the research group The Road Information Project (Suhay).  As a student of the University of Arizona who commutes to campus daily by bike, my relationship with the local Tucson roads is up close and personal as I can see the surface transportation system deteriorating right below my own handlebars.  I often maneuver through large potholes the size of craters as I make my way to school, and have even crashed off of my bike a few times when I have pedaled into one.  Even from inside a car, one can see the need for transportation improvements by simply driving around in Washington State.  The recent collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River highlighted that more than 1,960 of Washington’s bridges are considered “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete,” while the bridge that collapsed wasn’t even close to being the lowest rated (“A Look Back”).  As an American citizen, one can easily see the imperative need to improve surface transportation across the country to improve not only safety, but also trade efficiency and economic productivity.  Overall, the FAST Act is a step in the right direction with the long term funding to help move forward critical transportation projects.  However, like most acts, the FAST Act is not perfect and could have included more provisions for freight movement as well as benefit from a greater focus on technological innovation and advancement.

It is obvious to see that the FAST Act will physically improve our nation’s transportation system with the allocation of $305 billion in highway and transit spending.  Since it’s the first act in over ten years to provide long-term funding for surface transportation, state governments can now create new highways and transit lines for building a “21st century transportation system” (“The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act”).  This will provide increased safety to all road users, alleviate congestion for both cargo and people, and will keep the economy strong by increasing trade efficiency and creating local jobs that cannot be outsourced.

Although freight travels across the country by various different means, the FAST Act allocates ninety percent of the funds to highway freight projects.  The funding is greatly needed, however, it would be more efficient it went to other freight options such as ports, hubs and railroads.  There are measures in place in the FAST Act to improve ports and railroads; however, a greater allocation for these forms of surface transportation would be extremely beneficial to all.  While there is $10 billion allocated for passenger rail, funding to improve rail freight would create a well-functioning, multimodal transportation system that doesn’t rely on highways exclusively (Davis).

As technology advances, as transportation improves, and as times continue to change, our nation’s transportation system will evolve.  The new $60 million allocated for the advanced technology deployment fund is one step in the right direction that will change the various modes of surface transportation (Wienzner).  From horses and carriages, to automobiles, the world has come a long way with the development of new forms of transportation.  What will be in store for the future?  The FAST Act includes a few new provisions that could help self-driving cars get onto the road.  With the increased funding for research, the potential of autonomous vehicles entering the mainstream transportation system will surely change the way our system operates (Wienzner).  Still, there could be more emphasis on furthering technological advancements, though every little bit helps.

Finally, times are changing so we must not focus solely on highway improvement, however much it is currently demanded.  As one critic of the act writes, “it uses tomorrow’s dollars to pay for yesterday’s ideas and represents a missed opportunity to do something much better” (Davis).  This may be true, and the FAST Act may not be perfect, but any kind of funding to improve our nation’s surface transportation will greatly benefit the safety and efficiency of transportation in our country.


Works Cited

“A Look Back: I-5 Bridge Collapses over the Skagit River.” KING5. TEGNA, 23 May 2014. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.

Davis, Stephen Lee. “T4America.” Transportation For America. 2 Dec. 2015. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

Suhay, Lisa. “Getting Filled in on the Art of Dealing with Potholes.” The Christian Science Monitor. Mar 21 2016. ProQuest. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.

“The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act or “FAST Act”” Department of Transportation. U.S. Department of Transportation, 24 Feb. 2016. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

Wienzner, Jen. “Obama Gives Bikes and Autonomous Cars a Boost.” Fortune Obama Gives Bikes and Autonomous Cars a Boost Comments. Fortune, 07 Dec. 2015. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.