Small businesses owned by women and minorities are expected to see increasing opportunities in the transportation industry as a result of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) signed into law by President Obama on December 4, 2015. The legislation is the first long-term transportation bill signed by Congress in over a decade and will provide much-needed funding certainty to state highway transportation agencies and public transit systems to plan and complete capital projects. The bill provides $305 billion in funding over the next five years to fund an array of projects ranging from bridge repair and replacements, highway infrastructure development as well as transit rail projects.
The passage of the Fast Act allows state transportation agencies and public transit systems to move forward on significant transportation improvement projects with the assurance that federal funds are available to help fund the expenditures. Many states around the country are experiencing a significant increase in projects out for bid in 2016 as a result of the most significant increase in federal funding becoming available in fiscal year 2016.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx praised the legislation on his Fast Lane Blog saying, "The good news is that the long winter of uncertainty for state DOTs has come to an end. Under the Act funding will go up by roughly 11 percent over five years. This is a down-payment for building a 21st century transportation system, though it is still far short of the amount needed to reduce congestion on our roads and meet the increasing demands on our transportation systems."
One key provision in the FAST Act will allow federal funding to support transit-oriented development (TOD) projects. TOD includes residential/commercial mixed-use development within a half-mile of a transit station. TOD promotes dense commercial and residential development near transit hubs in an effort to shore up transit ridership and promote walkable, sustainable land use.
The FAST Act also reauthorized the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Program for small businesses owned by women or minorities. Prior to the legislation’s passage there were attempts to change the DBE Program to allowing veteran-owned businesses to join the DBE program, and to make other changes to curtail the program. However, Congress reviewed existing data on the program and determined that a significant disparity in contract awards still exists for woman- and minority-owned business and that the DBE program is still needed to redress the disparity.
The legislation also included a “Sense of Congress on the Prompt Payment of DBE Subcontractors” provision advising the Secretary of Transportation to take additional steps to ensure that recipients of federal funds abide by the prompt payment provisions in the DBE program legislation. Although the DBE Program already contains prompt payment requirements that require contractors to pay DBE subcontractors within seven days of receiving payment on a transportation project, many DBEs across the country still experience slow payments by prime contractors.
The Institute’s Small Business Transportation Resource Center (SBTRC) helps companies connect with contracting opportunities in the transportation industry. The SBTRC serves the states of Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky. The South Atlantic Region SBTRC advocates on behalf of small businesses and provides technical assistance training programs to small and disadvantaged businesses in an effort to build their capacity, with the mission of making them more competitive when bidding for contracts containing federal transportation dollars. For more information, visit www.TheInstituteNC.org.