It has been 13 months since the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users was signed into law, but Congress is nearing approval of a bill that would make "technical corrections" to the mammoth statute.

Pending provisions would make changes in dozens of SAFETEA-LU projects, giving some more money. But a few of the "corrections" could have a broad effect on transportation, including provisions dealing with federal research funding and providing more time and funds for a panel studying how to finance roads and transit in the future.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Sept. 13 approved a corrections bill that is similar to the version the House passed June 28. But industry and state officials point to a key addition the Senate panel made to the House measure. That section would extend by six months the SAFETEA-LU-established National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Com- mission's July 1, 2007, deadline for reporting to Congress and also boost the panel's budget by $2 million, to a total of $3.4 million. Transportation interests hope the commission's findings will help lay the groundwork for the bill to follow SAFETEA-LU in 2009.

Key Provisions in 'Technical Corrections' Bills

Extends SAFETEA-LU finance
panel report deadline 6 mos.,
adds $2 million to its budget.
No provision
For 'F-SHRP' highway research program, provides more 'stable'
funding in fiscal 2007-2009,
AASHTO says.

Similar provision,
covers fiscal 2006-2009

Mag-lev program gets $90 million
in contract authority
Changes for about 150
SAFETEA-LU projects
Changes for about 65 projects
sources: Senate committee, house versions of H.R. 5689, Text of SAFETEA-LU  

The panel got a late start, because of delays in appointing its members, and observers say the additional time and money should help. David Bauer, senior vice president for government relations at the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, says Congress gave the commission a large, complex, task "and from my perspective it's a lot more important that they do this right than that they do it quick."

Both bills make changes in funding the Future Strate-gic Highway Research Program, an effort established in SAFETEA-LU to study highway infrastructure, safety, congestion and planning topics and get research results to engineers "as soon as practicable." The new bill shifts "F-SHRP's" funding from $51.5 million a year under SAFETEA-LU to 0.2% of total aid apportioned for major transportation funding categories.

This "gives us a very stable, predictable funding stream" for F-SHRP, says Jack Basso, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' director of management and business development. Mag-lev advocates also liked conversion of SAFETEA-LU's $90-million authorization for the program to contract authority.