Environmental Review Toolkit

Federal Transportation Authorizations

Every Federal program or activity, including the Federal-aid highway program (FAHP), requires legal authority to operate. The authorization act provides that authority, along with related funding. An authorization is a statutory provision that establishes or continues a Federal agency, activity, or program, and can be for either a fixed or indefinite period of time. Authorizing legislation for highways began with the Federal-Aid Road Act of 1916 and the Federal Highway Act of 1921. These acts provided the foundation for the FAHP as it exists today. Multi-year authorization acts have subsequently continued the FAHP. Since 1978, Congress has passed highway authorization legislation as part of larger, more comprehensive, multi-year surface transportation acts that covered Federal-aid transit funding as well. Recent Federal Transportation Authorizations include:


The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, signed into law on December 4, 2015, was the first Federal-aid law in over a decade to provide long-term funding certainty for surface transportation infrastructure planning and investment.


The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) was signed into law on July 6, 2012, with an effective date of October 1, 2012. MAP-21, a two-year funding bill, was an interim measure to continue Federal-aid highway, transit, and safety programs while Congress continued debating long-term reauthorization resulting in the FAST Act. 


The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) became law on August 10, 2005. In addition to funding authorizations, SAFETEA-LU included provisions aimed at improving efficiency in highway programs and project delivery.