AASHTO Journal, 29 May 2015
The Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee say they will mark up a long-term highway bill June 24, and are working with other committees to prepare the safety and transit portions of the reauthorization measure.
Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., made those comments in a May 23 statement, as the Senate in a voice vote backed a two-month extension of the Highway Trust Fund to July 31 as one of its last acts before starting a long Memorial Day recess period.
With that short extension, they said, “Congress prevented many critical road, bridge, and transit projects from coming to a grinding halt. But it’s time we end this costly uncertainty with the Highway Trust Fund.”
While the latest, short extension means lawmakers will soon face another deadline to decide how to fund federal highway and transit programs, it also leaves state departments of transportation facing a summer construction season without a clear schedule for when the federal dollars will be available to reimburse their project costs.
Already, some states have delayed hundreds of projects this year valued at well over $1 billion, and more projects could be put on hold until the federal funding uncertainty is removed.
Bud Wright, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, has said “we are disappointed and frustrated,” over the two-month extension. “Congress must find the political will to pass a long-term bill and put these short-term patches aside,” he said.
In their May 23 statement, Inhofe and Boxer said: “The only solution to fixing this problem is to enact a consensus-based, bipartisan, six-year surface transportation bill that will provide states and local communities the funding and the certainty they need to plan and construct multi-year projects to modernize our infrastructure.
“Our committee continues to make progress on a consensus, six-year surface transportation reauthorization bill, with a goal to mark up the legislation on June 24.”
Assuming EPW completes its portion of a bill that day, plenty of work remains to get a bill through Congress before the July 31 deadline.
Two other authorizing committees on the Senate side would need to soon complete their work on the safety and transit sections, while the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee would also have to be ready to advance an authorizing measure.
And revenue-raising committees in both chambers face the challenge of coming up with the revenue to pay for a six-year bill, estimated at about $90 billion to continue current funding levels plus inflation.
The Politico newspaper has reported that Boxer separately said she would not support further short-term extensions, and that more Democrats are opposing another extension in July.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., ranking member of the T&I Committee, in arguing May 19 for the two-month extension, said his side “reluctantly” supported it. He also said: “We believe that this is the last wakeup call to give Congress time” to complete a multi-year bill. “Sixty days is more than enough time to write a long-term authorization and for the Ways and Means Committee to figure out a way to fund it.”
Meanwhile, the EPW Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure set a June 1 field hearing in Baton Rouge, La. One of those slated to speak was Sherri LeBas, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.
The hearing’s title captured some of the issues around a new authorization bill: “Need to Invest Federal Funding to Relieve Traffic Congestion and Improve Our Roads and Bridges at the State and Local Level.”