Senate sends two-week highway patch to Obama

Senate sends two-week highway patch to Obama
© Greg Nash

The Senate on Thursday approved a measure to extend federal transportation funding for two weeks in an effort to prevent a highway funding shutdown, sending it to President Obama with just one day to spare before the scheduled expiration of the nation's road and transit spending.

The measure extends federal transportation spending — currently set to expire Friday — until Dec. 4. The patch was approved on a voice vote Thursday. 

Obama is expected to quickly sign the patch up to prevent an interruption in the nation's infrastructure projects. 

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Lawmakers have said they are hoping the latest temporary highway funding patch will provide time for them to finish work on a long-sought multi-year infrastructure bill. 

The temporary highway bill does not include any new money because lawmakers included enough road funding in the three-month transportation bill that was approved in July to last until the end of the year, in case they needed more time to finish work on a multi-year fix. 

The earlier patch was extended in October until Friday, and lawmakers were running out of time to reach a bicameral agreement before the scheduled interruption in road and transit spending. 

Congress has not passed a transportation funding bill that last longer than two years since 2005, much to the chagrin of infrastructure advocates in Washington.  

Both chambers have passed highway bills that contain at least three years of guaranteed transportation funding, but lawmakers are still haggling over a potential bicameral agreement on the disparate measures. 

The highway bill that was approved by the House calls for spending up to $261 billion on highways and $55 billion on transit over six years. The legislation authorizes highway funding for six years, but only includes enough money to pay for the first three of them. 

The Senate passed a similar piece of legislation that also contained three years' worth of guaranteed highway funding in July. 

Lawmakers had hoped to be able to get a multi-year highway bill to Obama’s desk by Thanksgiving, but they are now moving to pass another patch before Friday.

The Department of Transportation has warned that it will have to stop making payments to states and local governments for infrastructure projects in November if Congress did not reach an agreement on at least a temporary transportation funding extension by Friday. 

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated it will take about $100 billion, in addition to the annual gas tax revenue, to pay for a six-year transportation funding bill.