Highway funding talks ramp up

| Published on May 8, 2014

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Several transportation lawmakers and experts this week have heated up the conversation about highway funding and the new highway bill.

Earlier this week, the House Appropriations Committee released its appropriations bill for the Departments of Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development (THUD), which a panel within the committee approved on Wednesday, Politico reports.

The bill makes appropriations for the two departments, approving a total of $52 billion.

In a breakdown of the measure, Politico reports that the THUD bill includes:

$17.1 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Transportation

$40.25 billion for highways

$15.7 billion for aviation programs

$10.5 billion for transit projects

$1.4 billion for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)

$824 million for safety programs

$305 million for the Maritime Administration

However, the bill cuts the TIGER program from $500 million to $100 million and bans bike and pedestrian projects from receiving the grant.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx

Also on Wednesday, Foxx testified during a Senate Commerce hearing of the GROW AMERICA Act, during which he reiterated that state payments would be delayed if the new highway is not passed this summer, The Hill reports.

The current highway bill, MAP-21, will expire September 30, but the DOT predicts that the HTF will run out of money this summer, at least a full month before the current bill’s expiration.

The Hill’s report notes that Foxx previously wrote a letter to state DOTs explaining what could happen in the coming months.

“As secretary, it also is my responsibility to let you  know of the measures that the U.S. Department of Transportation will be required to take in the coming months if Congress does take action to replenish the Highway Trust Fund,” Foxx wrote. “While we will take every step possible to continue to fully reimburse your state for as long as possible, these will effectively require us to delay reimbursements that are owed to your agency and the transit agencies in your state.”

The transportation committees in both the House and the Senate are working to pass a bill before the HTF goes bankrupt. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said earlier this year that he is aiming to have a bill on the full House floor by August.

Meanwhile, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), along with other top transportation senators, announced Thursday that the committee would release the text of its bill on Monday and mark up the bill on Thursday of next week.

Boxer announced last week that she wanted to release the bill’s text this week, and our sister site, Commercial Carrier Journal, reports that the bill was expected to be released today.

The EPW Committee is slated to mark up the bill on Thursday at 10 a.m.

Sen. Barbara Boxer

Sen. Barbara Boxer

Boxer reiterated the committee’s previous announcement that a main focus of the bill would be a multi-year solution.

“This job-creating legislation provides the long-term funding certainty that states, cities, and businesses need while maintaining and improving the efficiency of the successful TIFIA program and establishing a formula-based freight program to improve the movement of goods on our surface transportation system,” Boxer said.

Se. David Vitter (R-La.), EPW ranking member, pointed to the need to fix the HTF.

“It’s time to restore trust in the Highway Trust Fund and to build and fix our nation’s roads and bridges so people can carry out their daily routines,” Vitter said. “We’ll remain focused on a long-term reauthorization bill that invests in rural areas, expands flexibility for state and local governments, and improves safety. And it’s incredibly important that we get projects streamlined and cut long bureaucratic waits.”

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, added that the EPW bill is expected to boost job growth.

“Every American has a stake in this bill, which provides for more than 40 percent of all highway capital investments and a quarter of our public transit funding,” Carper said. “This legislation will give our governors, mayors, and other officials the certainty of long term funding they need to develop and improve our transportation infrastructure, aiding communities around the country. These investments also benefit private sector businesses of all types and sizes, helping them to create new jobs and better compete in the global economy.”

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