Advocates push for more money in highway talks

Advocates push for more money in highway talks

Transportation advocates are pushing lawmakers to boost the federal government's annual spending for infrastructure projects in upcoming House and Senate negotiations on a new highway bill, even if it results in a shorter road funding package. 

Lawmakers are conferencing over a multiyear highway funding package after the House passed a six-year, $325 billion bill on Thursday that contains three years' worth of guaranteed road and transit funding.

The Senate similarly passed a bill that contains three years' worth of transportation funding in July, and lawmakers are expected to try to meld the measures quickly to beat a Nov. 20 deadline for renewing federal infrastructure spending. 

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A group of 40 transportation groups and unions said lawmakers should seek to boost the amount of money that is spent on road and transit projects each year in the upcoming talks, even if they have to cut back on the number of years that are included in the infrastructure funding measure. 

"The goal of the conference committee should be to produce final legislation that confronts the nation’s surface transportation challenges with policy reforms and increased federal investment levels," the groups wrote in a letter to Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate. 

"To that end, a reauthorization bill of less than six years duration with significant highway and public transportation investment increases is far superior to a six-year bill with status quo funding levels," the letter continued. "While the reliability of future federal highway and public transportation funds is a critical benefit of a multi-year reauthorization bill, such predictability alone is not sufficient to drive needed surface transportation improvements." 

The highway bill that was approved by the House on Thursday calls for spending $261 billion on highways and $55 billion on transit over six years. The legislation authorizes highway funding for six years, but only if Congress can come up with a way to pay for the final three years. The bill was approved in a 363-64 vote.

The transportation groups said in their letter to House and Senate leaders that neither chamber's version of the measure provides enough of an increase in annual infrastructure spending to meet the nation's road and transit needs. 

"Holding highway and public transportation investment at or below purchasing power levels will not create job growth, reduce traffic congestion, or address the nation’s backlog of needed surface transportation infrastructure improvements," the groups wrote.

"We urge you to ensure any surface transportation conference report seeks to maximize the benefits it would provide as opposed to the number of years it would last," the letter concluded.  

The letter was signed by the American Trucking Association; U.S. Chamber of Commerce; AFL-CIO; AAA; American Road & Transportation Builders Association; Associated General Contractors of America; Laborers International Union of North America; Energy Equipment and Infrastructure Alliance; National Railroad Construction & Maintenance Association; National Ready Mixed Concrete Association; U.S. Travel Association; American Public Transportation Association; American Society of Civil Engineers; American Highway Users Alliance; International Union of Operating Engineers; Building America’s Future; American Association of Port Authorities; Transport Workers Union, AFL-CIO; American Council of Engineering Companies; Association of Equipment Manufacturers; American Traffic Safety Services Association; National Utility Contractors Association; American Concrete Pavement Association; American Iron and Steel Institute; Association of Union Constructors; Asphalt Emulsion Manufacturers Association; Asphalt Recycling & Reclaiming Association; International Slurry Surfacing Association; United Brotherhood of Carpenters; National Electrical Contractors Association; National Asphalt Pavement Association; Portland Cement Association; American Bus Association; Associated Equipment Distributors; American Moving & Storage Association; Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO; American Concrete Pipe Association; National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association; National Precast Concrete Association and the American Rental Association.