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Tolling Points

Clock Runs Down as U.S. House Passes $500 Billion Surface Transportation Plan

Bill Cramer

With the clock running before federal surface transportation funding expires September 30, 2020, and national elections taking place just over a month later, the last week has seen an uptick in interest in reauthorization legislation from both chambers of the U.S. Congress.

Last Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted along mostly partisan lines to approve a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package that includes nearly $500 billion for surface transportation, Reuters reports. And in Senate, “there’s a push by Environment and Public Works Committee leaders to get something passed in the full chamber soon,” Politico writes.

Last July, Senate EPW passed a five-year, $287 billion surface transportation bill that represented a 27% increase over the previous package. But there’s been no action since in the Senate.

Now, “three months from today, the surface transportation authorization will expire,” EPW Chair John Barrasso (R-WY) said last week. “This can’t be allowed to happen, especially during this pandemic-caused economic downturn.”  Ranking Democrat Tom Carper (D-DE) added, “It’s time for the Banking and Commerce Committees to develop their own bipartisan titles” on transit, rail and safety.”

There has also been speculation that the White House was considering a trillion-dollar infrastructure package focused on transportation projects, though administration officials were non-committal last week on when or whether a proposal might appear.

Congressional Purgatory

The story so far has both news agencies predicting what Politico calls “Congressional purgatory” for the transportation bill. While casting adoption of the House bill as a major accomplishment, Politico says the measure is destined for “a starring role in rhetoric and talking points for both parties in the run-up to the presidential election”, rather than a presidential signature.”

Four months before the November presidential election, it is increasingly unlikely the House and Senate will strike a compromise deal and more than likely to extend existing funding until a new Congress.

IBTTA made its views on reauthorization known in early June, when the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee first introduced the bill that passed last week.

“IBTTA is pleased that Congress is moving forward with efforts to reinvest in America’s vital transportation infrastructure,” said Executive Director and CEO Pat Jones. “While the bill contains many positive provisions, we are disappointed that it rolls back the clock and removes the flexibility that Congress has granted states in previous transportation acts. We look forward to working with both the U.S. Senate and House on a bipartisan bill that strengthens our nation’s infrastructure and gives states the flexibility they need to reduce congestion and the negative effects of climate change.”

The most likely outcome for the current round of legislation may have already been predicted a year ago. On June 24, 2019, Politico Morning Transportation said the current transportation authorization will likely need a short-term extension, given the complexity of the legislative process ahead. “Even to maintain status quo spending, lawmakers will have to come up with $74 billion to cover a deficit in gas tax revenues from the Highway Trust Fund, with no clear idea where that money might come from,” wrote reporter Tanya Snyder.

Keep up with the federal legislative action! Bookmark the page for IBTTA’s Moving America Forward campaign.

Newsletter publish date: 
Tuesday, July 7, 2020 - 09:30


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