New House Transport Bill Not Yet Fully Funded
A $325-billion, six-year highway- transit authorization has been rolled out in the House, a step that construction officials welcome. But the proposal—from Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and the panel’s top Democrat, Peter DeFazio (Ore.)—has at best only three years of actual funding. It will be up to the Ways and Means Committee to find new revenue to close that gap.
The measure, unveiled on Oct. 16, is expected to clear the Transportation panel on a strong vote, but floor action probably won’t come by Oct. 29, when the latest transportation stopgap lapses. “We’re definitely looking at one more extension—but short, very short,” says Jay Hansen, National Asphalt Pavement Association executive vice president. He thinks that stopgap should run only into mid-November. “Beyond that,” he adds, “you’re getting too close to the Dec. 11 deadline, when the federal government funding runs out.”
David Bauer, American Road & Transportation Builders Association senior vice president for government relations, says, “I New House Transport Bill Not Yet Fully Funded think it’s incredibly positive that the House [Transportation] committee is marking up a bill at least a week before the current program expires. The last thing anybody wanted was … the need for another extension, with no difference in the landscape than when the last extension was enacted.”
The proposed Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act would authorize, from the Highway Trust Fund, $261 billion for highway construction, $55 billion for transit and $9 billion for safety programs, staffers said. Bauer says the bill has an additional $13 billion for transit from the general fund.
Industry sought more. Bauer says the House bill’s funding “in no way, shape or form keeps pace with the … increased construction and materials costs that we’re going to see over the next six years.”
Transportation committee aides said they expect that Ways and Means will find the $30 billion or more to fully fund three years. If the panel delivers, another critical point would come at the end of the bill’s third year, fiscal 2018. If Congress doesn’t provide a further infusion of more than $40 billion by then, the new bill would block highway and transit authorizations for fiscal 2019-21.
Staffers said the bill would put a new focus on freight-related infrastructure through $4.5 billion over six years in new grants for so-called Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects. They said the measure also would provide regulatory relief and consolidate some Dept. of Transportation offices.
If the House approves the package, including the needed revenue, Shuster’s team would start to work out differences with the Senate, which passed a $350-billion bill on July 30. The Senate measure has funding for only three years.