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Senate EPW focused on long-term transportation authorization

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
April 11, 2014

As time rapidly runs out before the current federal transportation authorization, MAP-21, expires at the end of September, it remains to be seen what the future holds in terms of what happens after that.

There could be a long-term bill coming, but given the fact that when MAP-21’s predecessor, the six-year SAFETEA-LU expired, it was not immediately replaced by MAP-21, which many industry stakeholders view mainly as a stop-gap bill due to its two-year length, but instead what followed SAFETEA-LU was a series of continuing resolutions, 26 to be exact, that kept funding at the same levels and no improvements in terms of transportation authorization i.e. more of the same stuff with no true dedicated focus on freight mobility and a Highway Trust Fund continually teetering on the edge of insolvency.

Well, maybe we are finally going to see some changes and improvements at least when it comes to the “vision” for future transportation authorizations. Why and how? A short answer comes from a presser held by the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held this week.

EPW leadership, including Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Senator David Vitter (R-LA), Ranking Member of the Committee, Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, and Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee, banded together to proclaim they have reached “an agreement in principle on a transportation bill.”

This being Washington and all, the announcement was equal parts promising as well as lacking detail.

But they did release a short list of principles that would serve as cogs or foundations for a future authorization, including:
-passing a long-term bill, as opposed to a short-term patch;
-maintaining the formulas for existing core programs;
-promoting fiscal responsibility by keeping current levels of funding, plus inflation;
-focusing on policies that expand opportunities for rural areas;
-continuing our efforts to leverage local resources to accelerate the construction of transportation projects, create jobs, and spur economic growth ; and
-requiring better information sharing regarding federal grants.

It seems like these principles serve as a good starting point, especially the first one regarding the need for a long-term bill. But, clearly, there is a long, long way to go before we see anything truly representing progress or action.

Even without showing most of her cards, Senator Boxer was firm in her assessment of where things are in terms of the federal transportation landscape and where they need to be.

“The reason the four of us are standing here is to send a strong signal to this country that we, as leaders of this Committee, have worked across party lines to act before the Highway Trust Fund cannot pay its bills,” said Boxer. “For those of you who follow this issue, you know that the Highway Trust Fund is expected to run out of money later this summer, which would be devastating to thousands of businesses and millions of workers across the country. Republican President Dwight Eisenhower had the vision to set up our federal Interstate system in the 1950s, and I am proud to stand here today, united with my colleagues, to say that we intend to keep the promise he made to the American people—that we will always have a strong national transportation system. At a time when 70,000 of our nation’s bridges are structurally deficient and less than 50 percent of our roads are in good condition, we must act, and that is what we intend to do.”

These are all valid points, of course, but action is long-overdue and a continued lack of it will do little to rebuild faith in our elected leaders, which is as low as it ever has been.

Mortimer L. Downey, Chairman, Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors, Senior Advisor, Parsons Brinckerhoff, and Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation, said that this is just the indication that work will begin and that expectations should be somewhat dampened as the Committee looks for funding to permit their goal of a six year bill funded at current levels. 

“Their intent is to keep the focus on money as opposed to revisiting issues that were settled in MAP-21, he explained. “So what I’d say is that the starting gun has been fired, but not clear how many laps there will be to the race.”

The White House also has a long-term transportation vision with a freight policy component that looks very promising and reports indicate that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will be issuing one, too. That said, there are lots of good ideas and intentions at work, now all that is needed is a working model for capital investment and some political will. Let’s see how it all goes.

About the Author

Jeff Berman headshot
Jeff Berman
Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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