Obama inks extension for SAFETEA-LU funding through September 30
Since the Transportation Reauthorization Bill (SAFETEA-LU) expired in Sept. 2009, Congress has passed a series of extensions, making it impossible for state and local transportation officials to plan for long-term highway and transit improvements. Pres. Obama is urging Congress to pass a bi-partisan SAFETEA funding bill in 2011.
March 04, 2011
With the clock ticking down on the future of federal highway and transit funding, the United States Congress and House of Representatives yesterday both voted to extend funding through September 30, the end of the fiscal year. This measure has now officially been signed into law by President Barack Obama and will cover funding related to highway, highway safety, and transit programs.
On February 11, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica introduced a bill, entitled H.R.662—Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2011, which was approved by the House T&I Committee.
Prior to that, near the end of December during the Lame Duck session of the 111th Congress, U.S. lawmakers voted to extend federal highway and transit funding through a contributing resolution through this Friday, March 4.
This vote was part of H.R. 3082, which was sponsored by Texas Congressman Chet Edwards, and signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 22. This continuing resolution is the latest in a series, which have been enacted to keep transportation spending afloat since SAFETEA-LU (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users) expired on September 30, 2009.
This funding, which goes toward surface transportation maintenance, development, and construction, has been kept afloat by multiple continuing resolutions typically ranging from four-to-seven weeks and keep funding at current levels.
When these previous continuing resolutions were granted, there was no clear picture as to the future reauthorization and if or when a new long-term alternative would be offered up. But that recently changed when the White House recently released its proposed Fiscal Year 2012 budget proposal.
Included in this proposal was a six-year, $556 billion surface transportation reauthorization proposal. if enacted, would be more than 60 percent above the inflation-adjusted levels of SAFETEA-LU (The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users), which expired on September 30, 2009, and has been kept afloat at the same funding level by the series of continuing resolutions mentioned above.
Included in this new six-year plan are:
-funding for highways, transit, highway safety, passenger rail;
-a National Infrastructure bank, which would be allocated $30 billion in loans and grants to support individual projects and broader activities of significance for the Nation’s economic competitiveness; and
-a proposal to boost transportation spending by $50 billion above current law spending in the first year of the authorization for roads, railways, and runways, among other components.
“We’re pleased that Congress and President Obama acted this week to extend federal highway and transit programs by seven months, allowing thousands of construction projects state departments of transportation have planned or under construction to move forward, uninterrupted,” said John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), in a statement. “Now we set about the hard work of getting a multiyear reauthorization in place later this year. This essential legislation will allow states to continue to preserve and modernize the surface transportation systems that individuals, families, and businesses depend on everyday. We must get this done.”
This measure marks the seventh extension of federal transit funding since SAFETEA-LU expired on September 30, 2009.
While highway funding is safe through the end of the fiscal year, AASHTO officials noted that the Senate this week passed and sent President Obama a two-week continuing resolution that would extend government funding from March 4 to March 18, with a measure that includes nearly $1 billion in cuts to transportation programs including a $650 million reduction in highway spending for this fiscal year compared to Fiscal Year 2010, rescission of $293 million in unspent transportation earmarks from previous years, and a $25 million reduction in the Rail Line Relocation and Improvement program.
“Rebuilding our infrastructure—this is the last place we should cut,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon and ranking minority member of the House Highways and Transit Subcommittee. “Unfortunately, some cuts have already been proposed and made in transportation. That’s not where we should be cutting. Those who would advocate further cuts are wrong.”
Several transportation infrastructure experts have told LM that without a viable funding mechanism in place, the future for transportation infrastructure funding is likely to remain in its current situation.
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