ARTBA: FHWA Issues New Memo on IIJA Implementation Priorities
Friday, March 3, 2023
Section: AGC/VT News

What happened: Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt Feb. 24 issued a memorandum clarifying the agency's priorities for implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). The document reaffirms the principal role of states in selecting projects for inclusion in the federal-aid highway program.  It explicitly supersedes a controversial memorandum from then-Deputy Federal Highway Administrator Stephanie Pollack, issued in December, 2021, shortly after the IIJA’s passage, which expressed a preference for maintenance and rehabilitation of existing highway and bridge facilities (sometimes called “fix it first”) over new capacity projects.
Why it matters: According to the new memo, “States determine which of their projects shall be federally financed by Federal-aid highway formula dollars. Different States have different needs when it comes to transportation assets that must be reconfigured and modernized, expanded and added, or retired and replaced. [The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)] recognizes and values the authority and role of the States in deciding how to prioritize the use of their Federal-aid highway dollars and will continue to administer funds and programs consistent with all requisite statutory requirements and considerations.”
While noting that states “are ultimately responsible for deciding how their formula and allocated funding is prioritized,” the administrator reiterates the agency’s ongoing policy goals, including those related to safety, accelerated project delivery, accessibility, environmental impacts, resilience, future-proofing (including electric vehicle charging infrastructure) and reconnecting communities.
The memo also references FHWA’s commitment to “an efficient environmental review process through the One Federal Decision framework and by continuing to coordinate with other Federal partners to ensure that the benefits of projects are realized as soon as possible.” Effective use of One Federal Decision, which seeks to align the permitting approval activities of multiple federal agencies, has remained one of ARTBA’s priorities in implementing the IIJA.
Over the past 14 months, numerous members of Congress and stakeholder groups – including ARTBA – had criticized the December 2021 memo as an attempt by the Biden administration to advance policy objectives not included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. 
During ARTBA’s Executive Committee meeting Jan. 12, association leaders met with Administrator Bhatt and expressed continued concern over the December 2021 memo. He told attendees that his agency intended to follow the law, and any future written communications from his office would make that clear.
What’s next: ARTBA will continue working with FHWA, other federal agencies, Congress and partner associations on key IIJA implementation issues, including Buy America and One Federal Decision. ARTBA is also tracking the progress of IIJA funding and projects on its Highway Dashboard.