What Was the Problem with SAFETEA-LU?
In the 2005 reauthorization bill (known as SAFETEA-LU), language was added at the very last minute, without any debate by the House or Senate, that was intended to encourage competition in the procurement of culvert pipe for federally-funded highways. Unfortunately, the unintended impact of that language was to force States to open their standards for culvert pipe – including, in some cases, products previously rejected by the State’s engineers – rather than allowing the States to continue to rely on sound engineering principles, safety considerations, and proven performance.
What Did Congress Do To Fix the Problem?
During its 2012 consideration of the highway reauthorization bill, MAP-21, Congress unanimously restored the ability of States to select their preferred culvert pipe based upon their State engineers’ recommendations and local prevailing conditions. Congress, and the Federal Highway Administration, recognized that States are most qualified to select safe and sustainable culvert pipe infrastructure, putting this engineering decision back into the hands of engineers.
More specifically, Section 1525 of MAP-21, “State Autonomy for Culvert Pipe Selection,” directed the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to ensure that States have the autonomy to determine - without any federal interference - the type of culvert pipe material to be used for highway projects within their borders.
Was Congress Tempted to Reconsider Its Solution?
In 2015, as Congress was writing the most recent reauthorization bill – the FAST Act – the plastic pipe industry made two attempts to eliminate or weaken the 2012 language giving States the authority to select culvert pipe materials for federally funded highways. The first attempt was made during a committee meeting but the sponsor was forced to withdraw the amendment. A week later, when the full House was debating and amending the bill, a revised amendment was offered that would have required US DOT to study how States procure pipe for culverts. After only a brief debate, the House accepted the amendment by voice vote. But that wasn’t the end of it. A conference committee subsequently convened to resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill rejected the amendment, thereby reaffirming the intent of Congress to leave the selecting of pipe materials to the States. ACPA, its members, and its allies were instrumental in persuading the members of the conference committee – many of whom represented districts and states where concrete pipe plants exist – that the amendment was ill conceived.
What Does the Future Hold?
Section 1525 will remain the law of the land unless Congress reverses course. The American Concrete Pipe Association will vigorously defend this selection process because it puts the decision back in the hands of the State DOT engineers where it belongs.
The American Concrete Pipe Association is here to assist with any questions you have about concrete pipe as an integral part of your structurally sound and sustainable roadway systems.