House signs off on another transportation bill extension
April 19, 2012
While prospects of a new long-term transportation bill remain dim, the United States House of Representatives yesterday signed off another extension—the tenth since September 30, 2009—to keep federal transportation funding intact at current spending levels for 90 days through the end of September when the current one expires. This funding primarily goes toward road, bridge, and mass transit projects.
In a 293-127 vote, the House approved H.R. 4348, the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012, Part II.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) said in a statement that this bill contains no tax increases, earmarks, or new federal government programs and will help move the process forward in working to resolve differences with the Senate.
House T&I Committee officials said that this bill includes provisions to significantly cut the red tape that delays highway and bridge projects in the U.S. and also includes a provision that that will lower energy prices and decrease reliance on unstable foreign sources of energy.
Earlier this year, the House introduced its own long-term bill, the five-year, $260 billion American Energy and Infrastructure Act, but it largely stalled out due to fiscal concerns from House Republicans.
And the Senate Environment and Public Works committee passed MAP-21, a two-year, $109 bill surface transportation bill in late March.
The bipartisan EPW bill, led by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate EPW Committee, and Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member of the EPW Committee), is comprised of various freight- and supply chain-related components, including:
a National Freight Network Program that provides formula funds to states for projects to improve the movement of freight on highways, including freight intermodal connectors;
a National Highway Performance Program that consolidates the Interstate Maintenance program, the National Highway System program and part of the Highway Bridge Program into a single program that focuses on the most critical 22,000 miles of roads in the country;
- a Transportation Mobility Program that replaces the current Surface Transportation Program but retains the same structure, goals, and flexibility to allow states and metropolitan areas to invest in projects fitting their needs and priorities, as well as provide a broad eligibility of surface transportation projects that can be constructed; and
Many transportation stakeholders are calling for the House to consider the Senate’s MAP-21 or pass companion legislation so that federal funding for transportation programs is not eliminated when the eighth continuing resolution of the previous bill, SAFETEA-LU, expires on March 31. SAFETEA-LU is primarily funded by the Highway Trust Fund, which stands at 18.4 cents for gasoline and 23.4 cents for diesel and has not been increased since 1993. The Highway Trust Fund as required multiple bailouts from the U.S. General Treasury Fund in recent years to remain solvent as it has been paying out more capital than it has been taking in.
“This [vote] is a vehicle for the House to pass something that can get them to conference with the Senate,” said U.S. Chamber of Commerce Director of Transportation Infrastructure and head of its Let’s Rebuild America campaign Janet Kavinoky in an interview. “We see this as a positive development. Fundamentally, we needed the House to pass something in order to move forward with the Senate. Now, the key is taking that care of and getting the job done.”
She added that this represents a positive move forward to get a new transportation bill with some reform, as well as maintaining current funding levels and providing some form of clarity for a future bill.
And if the political process is able to move forward on a new transportation bill, Kavinoky said an ideal situation would be for a bill that goes through at least September 2013 at current funding levels and includes policy reforms that both the Senate and the House were going to advance, including: speeding up project delivery, consolidating programs, streamlining the environmental process, focusing on freight, and doing more in the way of performance management and accountability.
“All of these elements are things that we are looking forward to coming out of the conference,” she said. “The key here is that the House and Senate need to appoint conferees and actually working on starting to put together a package that can pass both the House and the Senate and be signed by the President.”
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