Senators Urge Support for MAP-21 Reauthorization Measure

AASHTO Journal, 2 March 2012

Sens. David Vitter, R-Louisiana, and John Hoeven, R-North Dakota, addressed key provisions of a surface transportation reauthorization measure currently being debated on the Senate floor and asked state transportation leaders for their support during a plenary session Tuesday afternoon at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Washington Briefing.Vitter, ranking minority member of the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, stressed that approval of S 1813, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, is critical because the nation’s transportation infrastructure needs continued federal investment in maintenance and reconstruction. He added that the legislation would create badly needed jobs to help reduce the construction industry’s 17.7% unemployment rate, and he said this is among the few major pieces of legislation that a divided Congress could enact during an election year.

The last multi-year surface transportation authorization law, known as “SAFEATEA-LU,” expired Sept. 30, 2009. The eighth extension of that law expires March 31.

“This is an important bill to get done, and I think we can get it done,” Vitter said. “We can’t afford to fall into this routine of just hobbling along with very short-term extensions. We need to get back to the habit and practice of long-term reauthorizations of the program, even if it’s two years right now rather than five or six.”

MAP-21 would maintain current highway and transit investment levels, plus inflation, for this and next fiscal years. The two-year measure would authorize $109 billion in surface transportation programs. Vitter noted the important policy changes the bill would make, including giving state transportation departments more flexibility in spending their federal grants.

“The bill includes many much-needed reforms and in particular enables you at the state level, and your colleagues at the local level, to address challenges with additional flexibility,” he said. “Given this budget situation and this political year, I think it’s a good product and one we can pass, even in this divided Congress and divided government…. My expectation now is that we’ll vote it off the Senate floor at the end of next week.” (see related story for details of this week’s Senate floor action)

Vitter said it’s unlikely Congress will enact a multi-year reauthorization before month’s end, however.

“With the deadline approaching, the chances of needing one more short-term extension are better than 50/50,” he said. “We pass one very short extension and then finalize the bill. That’s my hope.”

Hoeven Encourages State DOTs to Support TRIP Bonds

During his remarks to the Washington Briefing, Hoeven urged the audience to contact their congressional delegations to voice support for a component he has co-sponsored with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon. Transportation and Regional Infrastructure Project Bonds, known as “TRIP bonds,” would be funded by customs user fees and support $25 billion in bond capacity — $500 million per state DOT — over two years.

Hoeven noted this is the only new funding for transportation included in the Senate reauthorization bill. If enacted, the $25 billion would be in addition to the bill’s $109 billion base investment level. States would be required to match the $500 million federal investment with $100 million in state investment. Bonds would be repaid over 30 years. AASHTO has endorsed the provision creating TRIP bonds. (see Feb. 3 AASHTO Journal story)

“You ought to talk to your two senators and however many congressmen and say, ‘We ought to include this in the final highway package,'” Hoeven said. “You’ll be able to utilize the dollars on projects you want to use them for. It will be your decision, not the federal DOT’s, not somebody else’s — it’s up to you.”

Wyden’s staff spoke about TRIP bonds during another session at the AASHTO Washington Briefing. (see related story)

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