Transport advocates eye new deadline for long-term highway bill

Transportation funding advocates are relived that Congress passed legislation this week to prevent an interruption in the nation’s infrastructure spending, but they are already eyeing a new Nov. 20 deadline with hopes that lawmakers will finally pass a multiyear highway bill. 

Lawmakers approved a bill to extend federal transportation funding for three weeks in the hopes of buying time to complete work on a long-sought multiyear infrastructure package. 

The temporary measure will prevent a shutdown in infrastructure funding on Thursday – pending President Obama’s signature by midnight – but transportation funding supporters are already turning their eyes to the next deadline in the hopes of winning a longer victory next month. 

“Our country needs a consensus-based, bipartisan, long-term surface transportation bill that will provide states and local communities the funding and certainty to plan and construct multi-year projects to modernize our infrastructure,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said in a joint statement after the Senate approved the temporary highway funding patch. 

“We are pleased that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee advanced a six-year surface transportation bill last week and that the bill is slated to be considered on the House floor next week,” Inhofe and Boxer continued. “It is time for the House and Senate to get to conference so that we can work out our differences and get the job done now.  There are no excuses for further delay.”

Inhofe and Boxer, who are the top ranking Republican and Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, introduced a six-year highway bill that was passed by the Senate in July. The measure only includes three years’ worth of guaranteed funding, however.  

The House, meanwhile, has worked on a six-year, $325 billion transportation bill that similarly contains only three years of guaranteed funding. The House would cut off the nation’s infrastructure spending in three years if Congress does not come up with a way to pay for the rest of the spending.

The lower chamber is expected to bring the multiyear highway bill up for a vote on the floor of the House next week, clearing the way for a long-sought conference on infrastructure spending between the chambers.

Lawmakers have been struggling for years to come up with a long-term extension of federal transportation funding that is normally financed by the 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax. 

The federal government typically spends about $50 billion on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings in appropriately $34 billion at its current rate.

Congress has not passed a transportation funding bill lasting longer than two years since 2005, to the chagrin of infrastructure funding supporters. 

“I am disappointed yet another short-term extension was needed [Wednesday],” Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) said in a statement after the Senate vote on the temporary highway funding extension.

“Nebraskans want a long-term transportation bill that provides certainty, advances highway project construction, and enhances road safety,,” Fischer continued. “Once the House passes their bill, I am confident we can come together and craft a bipartisan, multi-year transportation bill. The safety and reliability of our nation’s transportation system depends on it.”

Transportation advocates in Washington say it long overdue for Congress to pass a multiyear highway bill, noting that the string of measures that are shorter than two years has topped 30. 

“The need to update and modernize our nation’s transportation infrastructure extends far beyond state transportation departments and road builders,” the National Association of Manufacturers said in a key vote notice on the temporary highway funding extension in the hopes it would be the last short-term infrastructure bill. 

“Manufacturers need stable and reliable infrastructure to thrive and compete in today’s economy,” the manufacturing group continued. “Funding our roads, bridges and transit systems is a national priority. To compete in the 21st century economy, we have to invest and modernize our infrastructure with an eye toward economic growth, jobs and increased competitiveness.” 

Lawmakers have predicted the House and Senate will be agree to a highway bill quickly enough to get it to President Obama’s desk by Thanksgiving. 

Tags Barbara Boxer Deb Fischer DRIVE Acct Highway bill Highway Trust Fund MAP-21 Reauthorization STRR Act Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015
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