Energy, Transportation Bills Will Impact Architects

Transportation bill likely to benefit architects

The long-delayed, multiyear federal transportation bill that President Bush signed into law on August 10 provides substantial funding for projects involving architects. The new legislation, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), covers the 2005 through 2009 fiscal years. Authorizations total $295 billion.

Architects seem pleased that SAFETEA-LU retains the program structure set by the 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA). One key extended ISTEA feature is the "transportation enhancements" program, which sets aside 10 percent of funding for the Surface Transportation Program, a major federal highway aid category, for things like bicycle and pedestrian paths, scenic and historic sites, rehabilitating historic railroad stations, and other transportation facilities. Under SAFETEA-LU, the enhancements program is guaranteed more than $3.2 billion over the 2005–2009 period.

"It's an important bill," says Jason Stanley, an associate partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's Chicago office. "If the value of the public realm can be raised, that will enhance property values, and it will enhance commercial zones." But Stanley says the impact "depends on which state the work is in." He says the best potential is in states like Minnesota, which have formally adopted "context-sensitive design."

As with past transportation bills, lawmakers made sure to include pet projects. Washington, D.C.–based advocacy group Taxpayers for Common Sense says funding for all projects and earmarks in the law tops $23 billion. Critics deride those projects as pork-barrel politics, but some items may be of interest to architects, such as $3 million for renovations to Denver Union Station, $1 million to build a bicycle and pedestrian trail in California's Contra Costa County, and $9 million for "studies, design, and construction" of New York City's High Line Trail project.

The AIA was pleased the final bill included a $2 million study, due by September 20, 2007, of how federal transportation spending affects localities' design, health, and safety.

Energy bill may boost efficiency standards

Although the newly enacted energy bill, signed by President Bush on August 8, doesn't provide nearly enough conservation incentives to suit environmental groups, the measure does contain provisions aimed at promoting energy efficiency, including $1.3 billion in conservation and energy-efficiency tax-break incentives.

Among these incentives is a deduction for commercial buildings that cut annual energy and power consumption by 50 percent compared to American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers standards. For "building subsystems," the deduction would be 60 cents per square foot. Energy-efficient equipment includes interior lighting, heating, cooling, ventilation, hot water, and the building envelope, according to the congressional Joint Tax Committee. The bill also provides tax credits for contractors that build new energy-efficient housing, and for homeowners who install solar power and fuel cells.

In addition, the energy law requires the Department of Energy to issue energy-efficiency standards for new federal buildings within a year. The legislation states that energy-use levels in new federal facilities must be at least 30 percent less than the ASHRAE standard or International Energy Conservation Code in effect when the building is constructed. It also says "sustainable design principles" should apply to "siting, design, and construction of all new [federal] buildings."

The AIA applauds new provisions, such as a program to spur commercial use of photovoltaic energy, partly through a $250 million authorization over five years. In addition, the AIA backed a provision calling for the Department of Energy to sign an agreement with the National Institute of Building Sciences to study whether the present voluntary standards and ratings for "high-performance" buildings "are consistent with the current technological state of the art."

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