A multiyear highway and transit bill—the construction industry’s longtime top legislative priority— is advancing on Capitol Hill, with the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s approval of a six-year, estimated $325-billion measure. Industry officials’ eyes now are focused on the Ways and Means Committee, which is tasked with adding enough funding to that bill to keep the Highway Trust Fund out of the red for at least three years.
The House on Oct. 27 passed a three-week stopgap to avert an Oct. 29 cutoff of surfacetransportation programs. A Senate vote is the next step.
After the transportation panel approved the six-year Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act on Oct. 22, Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) told reporters the bill probably wouldn’t get a floor vote until Ways and Means produced its revenue title.
The transportation committee’s top Democrat, Peter DeFazio (Ore.), warned, “Remember, if we pass this bill and the revenue isn’t forthcoming, the Highway Trust Fund goes belly up in the very near future.” The U.S. Dept. of Transportation has projected that, without new revenue, the trust fund will hit a critical point by Nov. 20, which is when the new proposed extension will expire.
The Congressional Budget Office on Oct. 21 estimated at least $27 billion in new revenue would be needed to avoid a trust-fund deficit for three years.
If Ways and Means finds the money and the full House clears the package, negotiations would begin with the Senate, which approved a $350-billion, six-year plan on July 30. That bill, too, only includes three years’ funding.
The new House stopgap, introduced on Oct. 26, also would give railroads three more years to install new positive train control (PTC) systems. Many railroads have said they won’t be able to meet the current Dec. 31 PTC deadline. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) supports a brief PTC extension—but not a multiyear reprieve—on the highway-transit stopgap, says a spokesperson for Boxer on the Environment and Public Works Committee.