June 08, 2021

How the INVEST in America Act Helps Build a More Just and Equitable Future

Newly-introduced five-year surface transportation bill will re-imagine how we invest in infrastructure 

Washington, DC – Today, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) highlighted provisions of the newly-introduced five-year, $547 billion surface transportation bill that would re-imagine our national transportation policy to help reconnect communities and level the playing field for social and economically-disadvantaged communities by considering equity and environmental justice in funding decisions. The INVEST in America Act also improves access for people with disabilities and reduces transit deserts by emphasizing new routes in unserved and underserved areas. On Wednesday, June 9, the committee will consider the INVEST in America Act during a markup.

“Too often, decisions around infrastructure have been made in a way that excluded, divided, and quite literally paved over low-income communities and communities of color,” Chair DeFazio said. “With the INVEST in America Act, we have a unique opportunity to take a fresh look at infrastructure that is aging out and, instead of merely perpetuating planning mistakes of the past, help reconnect neighborhoods and modernize our infrastructure for everyone, no matter how they get around. And importantly, when we get to work on projects, we create good-paying jobs in communities that have often been left behind.”

Specifically, the INVEST in America Act would place an emphasis on equity in the following ways:

  • Reauthorizes and updates U.S. DOT’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program, requiring that states use at least 10% of funds under the highway, transit, innovation, and TIFIA titles of the bill via small business concerns owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
  • Establishes apprenticeship goals for the largest highway grant programs with an emphasis on employing traditionally underrepresented populations, including women and minorities, to create a more diverse construction workforce.
  • Requires the Secretary to consider whether projects serve persistent poverty communities in the Projects of National and Regional Significance program ($13 billion). 
  • Creates a new $3 billion program to reconnect economically-disadvantaged and underserved neighborhoods that have been divided by arterial highways and other infrastructure, emphasizing projects that ensure inclusive economic development and environmental justice.
  • Creates a new program to reduce transit deserts, improving access to jobs and essential destinations in communities that are unserved or underserved by transit.
  • Requires the Secretary to consider equity and environmental justice, and whether a project is in a persistent poverty or urban poverty community, under the Community Climate Investment Grant program ($1 billion).
  • Provides $109 billion total for transit in communities of all sizes.
  • Requires consideration of equity and environmental justice for tolling and congestion pricing projects.
  • Sets aside $50 million a year, administered through the transit rural formula grant, for rural persistent poverty areas, defined as a county with a poverty rate above 20% since 1990. Requires states to distribute these federal funds to persistent poverty counties.
  • Creates a transit demonstration grant to provide for a reduced fare for low-income riders to help close transit equity gaps. Commissions a GAO review into the benefits and implications of fare-free transit.
  • Requires the Secretary to consider equity and environmental justice under the new Active Connected Transportation grant program, which funds comprehensive bike networks in communities as well as long-distance connectors and trails ($250 million per year).
  • Doubles the set aside for urban areas formula dollars based on low-income population and deep poverty census tracts and directs transit agencies to serve these populations.
  • Creates a new program to bring transit rail stations into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Adds additional planning considerations for accessibility and equity, including a holistic look at housing and land use policies, in both the statewide and metropolitan planning processes.
  • Creates a grant program to examine the costs and benefits of allowing flexibility in paratransit trips that allow one stop for certain needs like dropping children off at daycare or school or stopping briefly at the pharmacy, grocery store, or bank.
  • Requires the U.S. Access Board to finalize guidelines for access by disabled pedestrians to the public right-of-way.
  • Revises the goals of the National Highway Freight program to include further consideration of environmental justice and equity impacts.
  • Provides multiple incentives in the Capital Investment Grant ratings process if the project preserves or encourages higher density affordable housing near a project.
  • Revises the provisions of the National Strategic Freight Plan, the National Multimodal Freight Policy, and the State Freight Plans to include further considerations of environmental justice and equity impacts.
  • Establishes an Office of Transit-Supportive Communities to make grants, provide technical assistance, coordinate transit-housing policies across the federal government, and incorporate strategies to promote equity for underrepresented and underserved communities.
  • Reestablishes the Transportation Equity Research Program that will focus on the impacts of surface transportation planning, investment, and operations on underserved populations
  • Establishes a national clearinghouse to examine the use of autonomous vehicles (AVs), including research into the land use and social equity impacts of AVs.
  • Allows a transit grantee to transfer property no longer needed to a local government authority, non-profit, or other third party for the purpose of transit-oriented development and releases the federal interest in that asset. Requires that at least 40% of the housing units in such a project be offered as affordable housing.
  • Requires the Secretary to issue best practices to better scope which types of transit service changes trigger a review under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
  • Directs the Secretary to make grants to an eligible non-profit institution of higher education to establish and operate a national Center of Excellence for fair and equitable traffic safety enforcement, to promote fair and equitable traffic safety enforcement with the goal of reducing traffic fatalities and injuries.
  • Provides preference within the Passenger Rail Improvement, Modernization, and Expansion (PRIME) grant program to projects that improve service to and investment in socially disadvantaged communities.
  • Taking into account the impact of past rail development on minority communities, the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) grant program provides preference to projects that improve service to or provide direct benefits to socially disadvantaged groups, including the relocation of railroad infrastructure   that affect community connectivity. 
  • Authorizes the Secretary to establish workforce development pilot programs in partnership with railroad carriers, allowing for strengthened minority outreach and workforce diversity.
  • Requires the Secretary to consider track records of fostering economic development in disadvantaged communities through rail transportation systems in awarding funding to interstate rail compacts. 
  • Requires the Secretary to consider how projects will positively impact the accessibility of affordable housing within a region when awarding high-speed rail corridor planning assistance.
  • Makes Indian tribes eligible for rail funding in the PRIME, CRISI, BeST and Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Separation grant programs.
  • Requires Amtrak to conduct a comprehensive review of all Amtrak policies, procedures, protocols, and guidelines for accessibility for passengers with disabilities in coordination with representatives of the disability advocacy community. 

More information:

Click here for more information about  the INVEST in America Act, including bill text, a section-by-section, and a fact sheet.