Proposed rule would require more highway construction products to be made in America

March 19, 2024

The Federal Highway Administration is considering discontinuing a waiver that allows foreign-made manufactured products to be used in federally funded highway projects, part of an effort to boost domestic manufacturing and bolster critical supply chains.

“For decades, America’s highway projects were allowed to use taxpayer dollars to purchase products manufactured in other countries,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said. “As we rebuild America’s infrastructure, this new rule would require federal highway projects to use products manufactured here.”

The highway administration published a notice of proposed rulemaking that would get rid of the waiver and require developers to use manufactured products that meet the standards set out in the Build America, Buy America (BABA) Act. The proposed rule change is open for public comments until May 13.

Currently, BABA requires iron, steel and eight specific construction materials – including wood, glass, drywall and fiber cables – to be made in America. Under the proposed rule, manufactured products used in construction will be subject to the same requirements.

The changes could apply to a wide range of products used in construction. Currently, manufactured products is broadly defined and includes anything that contains two or more construction materials combined, or one construction material combined with a material that is not classified by BABA. As a result, many construction products currently have no made-in America requirement.

By removing the waiver, the highway administration hopes to spur more U.S.-based manufacturing and create jobs as outlined in a 2021 executive order.

“We’re proposing to do away with a policy that did not incentivize restricted American-based manufacturing. This policy supports the Administration’s commitment to create good-paying jobs within the U.S., allowing domestic manufacturing to grow,” said Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt.

Buy America requirements for federal highway projects have been around since 1983, but the passage of BABA as part of the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law extended the requirements that formerly only applied to steel and iron products to a range of construction materials.

“American businesses now have a long-term incentive to tap into the broader federal government market,” Bhatt said.

Along with the new rule for manufactured products, the Federal Highway Administration also issued a request for information to gauge the readiness of U.S. supply chains to provide all of the manufactured products needed for highway construction. If the waiver is discontinued, the administration will have to come up with new standards for what qualifies as an American-made product.

Photo by George Pagan III on Unsplash

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