This week in transportation: Highway bill rolls into effect

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has heralded the changes as the start of a "new transportation era" that will "really change the … status quo."

The many parts of the transportation bill taking effect Monday include an increase in funding for the popular Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan program and a provision allowing the loans to be used for almost half the construction of new transportation projects.

The bill also makes changes to bicycle and pedestrian programs that have riled those who support spending money on forms of transportation other than roads and public transit.

Under the new legislation, states will be allowed to opt out of spending their transportation allocations on bike and pedestrian programs.

The legislation's supporters have argued that bike and pedestrian programs will be able to apply for a pool of money earmarked more broadly for transportation alternatives, however, meaning the highway bill increases the overall amount of money that could be available to them.

Seeking to avoid many of the fights that marked the highway bill’s passage, LaHood said last week that the Department of Transportation was making sure state and local governments were ready for the changes that have been legislated to federal road and transit spending.

LaHood said DOT was providing documents this week to "clarify MAP-21’s innovative project delivery methods and important changes to funding programs."

"Additional information addresses the many changes in the new law from MAP-21’s predecessor," he added in a reference to the 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) bill, which expired in 2009 and was temporarily extended until 2012.

The transportation bill is scheduled to run through the end of fiscal 2014 in September of that year.