Federal Legislation


The Federal transportation program is the accumulation of legislative actions focusing on Federal funding, regulation, and other aspects of the nation’s surface transportation systems and their administration. Legislation is updated on a periodic basis, with some updates focused on programmatic areas, some allocating funds, and others doing both. The program has evolved through successive authorization acts and other legislation which have added to, eliminated, or otherwise modified the program over time.

As new legislation is passed, Title 23 (“Highways”) of the United States Code (U.S.C.) is amended. Title 23, U.S.C. includes most of the laws that govern the Federal-Aid Highway Program (FAHP). Generally, Title 23, U.S.C. embodies those substantive provisions of highway law that Congress considers will continue and which need not be reenacted each time the FAHP is reauthorized. Each new surface transportation act specifies which sections of Title 23, U.S.C. are to be repealed, added, or amended.

As new transit acts are passed, Chapter 53 of Title 49 of the United States Code is amended. Chapter 53 of Title 49 includes most of the laws that govern the Federal Transit Program.

The term “program” is used as an umbrella term referring to activities administered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) or the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Each program has its own specific and separate funding, described in law, and each is considered a program, with eligible activities for which that funding may be used.

An Authorization Act is the basic substantive legislation that establishes or continues Federal programs or agencies and establishes the upper limit on the amount of funds for the various programs for either a fixed or an indefinite period of time. The financing cycle for the Federal-aid transportation programs begins when Congress develops and enacts a surface transportation authorization. Actual permission to spend the authorized amounts are dependent on annual appropriation acts.


The most recent Authorization Act is the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or FAST Act, enacted December 4, 2015. It authorizes $305 billion over fiscal years 2016 through 2020 for USDOT’s highway, highway and motor vehicle safety, public transportation, motor carrier safety, hazardous materials safety, rail, and research, technology and statistics programs.


Funding Federal-aid Highways
This FHWA publication, typically updated following the enactment of new highway or surface transportation acts, was most recently released in January 2017 and reflects changes made by the FAST Act. The report details the process of authorization act passage, enacting changes to the Federal-Aid Highway Program, Federal-aid financing procedures, and appropriating funding.

The following are authorization acts and significant Federal transportation legislation prior to the FAST Act and since the passage of ISTEA in 1991.

  • MAP-21 (2012)
    Federal surface transportation authorization for fiscal years 2013 and 2014
  • SAFETEA-LU (2005)
    Federal surface transportation authorization for fiscal years 2005 through 2009
  • TEA-21 (1998)
    Federal surface transportation authorization for fiscal years 1998 through 2003
  • NHS Designation Act of 1995
    Expanded upon innovative finance tools introduced in ISTEA and under TE-045
  • TE-045 (1994)
    Introduced a number of non-traditional financing and cash flow tools including state infrastructure banks, reimbursement of bond financing costs (early enabler of GARVEEs), advance construction, and federal-aid matching strategies
  • ISTEA (1991)
    Federal surface transportation authorization for fiscal years 1992 through 1997

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