Week ahead: Transport funding, safety hearings on tap

A week after President Obama and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) released plans to increase federal transportation funding, lawmakers in the House will take a look at finding money for infrastructure elsewhere in the private sector.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's panel on public-private partnerships will meet Wednesday to discuss the potential for boosting opportunities for non-governmental funding for transportation projects.

The public-private partnerships, known within the transportation industry as P3's, have become increasingly popular as federal funding for road and transit has become more constrained in recent years.

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The current transportation appropriations bill is scheduled to expire in September, and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has projected that the trust fund that is used to pay for most infrastructure projects will run out of money as early as August.

President Obama and Rep. Camp released proposals to transfer $150 billion and $126.5 billion respectively to restore the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund using revenue from their competing tax reform proposals.

The trust fund's coffers are normally filed by the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax, but collections from the fuel levy have dwindled as cars become more fuel efficient and Americans have driven less since the economic downtown of 2008 and 2009.

The gas tax currently brings in approximately $34 billion per year, but the current expiring transportation bill includes more than $50 billion in annual road and transit spending.

The House Committee is scheduled to hear testimony from the CBO, the Texas Department of Transportation and the Associated General Contractors of America (AGCA).

Additionally in the House, the committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday on maritime transportation regulations, focusing on "impacts on safety, security, jobs and the environment."

Lawmakers in the Senate will turn their attention to rail safety this week. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on Thursday examining "enhancing our rail safety, focusing on current challenges for passenger and freight rail."

The hearing comes on the heels of a spate of passenger and freight rail crashes last year, including derailments on the New York Metro-North commuter railway and a freight train carrying crude oil that resulted in 400,000 gallons being spilled in Casselton, N.D.

Lawmakers have clamored for more regulation of railways since the accidents, and now they will get their chance to begin crafting them in the Senate.