Congress is lurching toward a Friday deadline for replenishing federal transportation funding, with no clear endgame in sight. 

The Senate is still working on a multiyear highway bill, but the measure’s path to approval by week’s end is fraught with complications because of procedural hurdles and controversial amendments, such as a provision reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank. 

The House, meanwhile, is taking a wait-and-see approach, having already passed a temporary patch that would extend transportation funding until December. 

{mosads}The legislative game of chicken comes as there are just five days before the Department of Transportation’s authority to make payments to states out of its Highway Trust Fund ends and dips below critical levels. 

The agency has already warned states that it will have to cut back on payments for road projects if Congress does not reach an agreement on a transportation funding extension. 

Congress has been grappling with a $16 billion annual transportation funding shortfall since 2005, and they have not passed an infrastructure funding bill that lasts longer than two years during that span.  

The main source of transportation funding for decades has been revenue that is collected by the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax. The tax has not been increased since 1993, however, and more fuel-efficient cars have sapped its buying power. 

The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings in approximately $34 billion annually.

Transportation advocates have pushed for a gas tax increase to pay for a long-term transportation bill, but Republican leaders have ruled out a tax hike.

The Senate’s version of the highway measure includes an approximately $47 billion package of offsets to supplement the gas tax revenue that has lagged behind transportation expenses for years. The offsets will only close the infrastructure funding gap for three years, so lawmakers will have to revisit the issue in 2018 if they want to make the measure a full six-year transportation bill. 

The Senate package relies largely on revenue from reducing interest rates paid by the Federal Reserve to large banks; selling oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, used to prevent energy crises; and directing fees from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and customs processing. 

The House, meanwhile, has passed an $8 billion patch to fund road projects through Dec. 18. The proposal relies on $3 billion worth of savings from TSA fees and $5 billion in tax compliance measures.

Congressional budget scorekeepers have estimated it will take about $100 billion, in addition to the gas tax revenue, to fully pay for a six-year transportation bill.

Tags DRIVE Act Gas Tax Highway bill Highway Trust Fund MAP-21 Reauthorization

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