FAST ACT: Approval for emergency response permits to be expedited

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | Monday, December 14, 2015

Thanks to a new provision in the latest highway bill, truckers may have an easier time obtaining special permits needed for emergency responses.

The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act establishes a group of transportation agencies and other stakeholders tasked with finding the quickest, most efficient way to grant special permits for vehicles involved in emergency response and recovery.

The five-year FAST Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 4. The bipartisan legislation passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Dec. 3 by a vote of 359-65 and the Senate later that same day by a vote of 83-16. The 1,300-page legislation authorizes federal surface programs through fiscal year 2020, providing $305 billion for roads, bridges and mass transit.

Section 5502 in the “Motor Carrier Safety” section of FAST Act addresses the issue of emergency routes and the permits needed to access roads limited to emergency response crews. The provision sets guidelines for whom to include in the group that will determine best practices to grant special permits.

FAST Act will require the working group to be established no later than one year after the bill is enacted. Group members shall include state highway transportation departments and agencies; relevant Department of Transportation agencies; emergency response or recovery experts; safety groups; and other entities affect by special permit restrictions during emergency situations.

Within the bill, the panel is instructed to consider several factors, including any obstacles that currently slow down the permit process. Emergency routes between states are to be identified and established in advance whenever possible. States can designate a route in advance if trucks that are otherwise considered oversize or overweight can safely drive along the path. In the event predesignated routes are established, the bill requests the group to set up an online map identifying the new emergency routes.

A report of the group’s findings is to be submitted no later than one year after enactment of FAST Act. Once submitted, the report is to be published no later than 30 days. Within six months of receiving the report, House and Senate committees will be notified of the recommendations included in the report. The panel will be disassembled one year after the report is submitted.

Land Line reported during the Atlantic hurricane season that states already have smartphone apps available for residents to prepare evacuations during natural disasters. North Carolina has the ReadyNC app for both iPhone and Android phones. Virginia’s emergency preparedness app Ready Virginia is also available for iPhone and Android phones. Section 5502 of the FAST Act pertains to routes restricted for the use of vehicles with an emergency response permit.

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