Senate EPW committee approves extension of highway funding
September 08, 2011
In what could be viewed as a prelude to President Obama’s speech tonight on jobs and the economy, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) said it unanimously approved the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012.
EPW officials said that this measure is focused on funding highway programs at current levels through January 30, 2012.
The previous six-year surface transportation authorization—the $286 billion SAFETEA-LU—expired on September 30, 2009 and has been kept afloat since then through a series of continuing resolutions.
“I am very pleased with the unanimous vote today,” said Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), EPW Chairman, in a statement. “I look forward to early action on the Senate floor. The EPW Committee has shown it can work together so that we can put people to work rebuilding the infrastructure of our nation.”
In July, EPW unveiled an outline for its take on new surface transportation legislation.
Entitled Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), this bipartisan proposal, led by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), EPW Chair, and James Inhofe, R-OK, is for a two-year bill, $109 billion bill that would keep funding at current levels that were intact SAFETEA-LU.
This 2-year bill would come at a cost of roughly $109 billion, whereas the House bill, led by T&I Committee Chair John Mica, is a six-year, $230 billion bill.
The EPW bill is comprised of various freight- and supply chain-related components, including:
-a National Freight 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; and
-leveraging Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program to help communities leverage transportation resources through federal credit assistance and increase annual funding from $122 billion to $1 billion. TIFIA provides Federal credit assistance in the form of direct loans, loan guarantees, and standby lines of credit to finance surface transportation projects of national and regional significance.
This bill was positively received by Mort Downey, Coalitions for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC) Chairman former deputy Transportation Secretary under President Clinton Mort Downey.
“The release of a framework for a Senate surface transportation bill is good news in a number of respects,” said Downey. “It represents solid bi-partisan agreement—a rare commodity in today’s Washington politics. At a time of constrained resources, it sets a goal of retaining current investment levels. And, from the point of view of CAGTC, it answers the call for dedicated investment into our freight network. Lots of steps lie ahead—working out the resource issues with the Senate Finance Committee, incorporating input from other Senate groups including the Senate Commerce Committee, and getting to consensus with the House of Representatives against a firm deadline of September 30 when the existing taxes and programs expire.”
In a speech at the Rose Garden late last month, President Obama said that if surface transportation capital were to expire, it would impact thousands of American workers and millions of Americans who drive on the country’s roads and bridges every day.
“At the end of September, if Congress does not act, the transportation bill will expire,” said Obama. “This bill provides funding for highway construction, bridge repair, mass transit systems, and other essential projects to keep our people and our commerce moving quickly and safely. If we allow the transportation to bill to expire, over 4,000 workers will be immediately furloughed without pay. If it is delayed for just ten days, it will lose nearly $1 billion in highway funding; that is money we can never get back.”
The President added that it is inexcusable to let this bill expire and put more jobs at risk in an industry which has already been severely impacted.
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