With the current highway and transit authorization law set to expire on Sept. 30 and the Highway Trust Fund in deep, immediate trouble, a two-way tussle has arisen over what Congress should do next. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and the White House want an 18-month highway and transit extension with a trust-fund fix. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) and other leaders on the panel reject an extension and have proposed a $500-billion, six-year reauthorization. They want to see the trust fund repaired, but their bill is silent on that point. Missing so far from both LaHood’s and Oberstar’s proposals is a key element: how to pay for the plans.
The dueling proposals have unsettled the situation for state and local transportation agencies as well as for construction companies that rely on government-funded projects. “We’ve got two sides of a difficult coin here,” says one Washington source. Localities and industry want to see the trust-fund problem solved rapidly but also like the idea of a long-range highway-transit bill. No one wants to get on the wrong side of LaHood or Oberstar. “We’re walking this fine line between the two of them,” the source adds.