Unable to finish some major bills before Sept. 30 deadlines, Congress is turning to stopgap measures to keep important federal construction programs running until lawmakers can strike deals on more permanent legislation or approve still further extensions. The programs include highway, transit and airports.

Much of the construction industry’s focus is on highways and transit, whose authorization, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users, is one of the bills lapsing on Sept. 30. The House passed a three-month extension on Sept. 23. In the Senate, Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and the panel’s top Republican, James Inhofe (Okla.), at ENR press time had agreed on a three-month bill, says Matt Dempsey, a spokesman for committee Republicans.

Governors also were pressing Congress to undo a SAFETEA-LU-mandated rescission of $8.7-billion in highway contract authority, set for Sept. 30. “It’s a pretty significant hit,” says Brian Deery, senior director of the Associated General Contractors’ highway and transportation division. Dempsey says Boxer and Inhofe had agreed to cancel the rescission, but Boxer had not yet agreed on Inhofe’s plan to offset the move’s budget impact by tapping unspent stimulus funds. The Capitol Hill churning “creates a huge uncertainty in the marketplace,” says Jay Hansen, National Asphalt Pavement Association vice president.

If a three-month SAFETEA-LU extension isn’t enacted, the backup is a one-month stopgap. That provision is part of a nearly government wide continuing resolution (CR) to fund agencies through Oct. 31. The CR was made necessary because fiscal year 2010 starts on Oct. 1, and none of the 12 appropriations bills for 2010 had been enacted as of Sept. 29. The CR does include one full-year 2010 spending measure: the bill that funds the legislative branch. One-month extensions for all other federal accounts are attached to it. The full House approved the whole CR package on Sept. 25. Senate passage would send the bill to the White House.

Surface transportation SAFETEA-LU expires on Sept. 30. House and Senate disagree on approach to long-term successor bill. Oct. 31 or Dec. 31*
Fiscal 2010 continuing resolution None of 12 FY10 spending bills enacted by Sept. 30 Oct. 31
Aviation Latest of several stopgap authorizations lapses on Sept. 30. Dec. 31

Appropriators then will try to move on the unfinished 2010 bills. An important step was a House-Senate agreement that House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) announced on Sept. 25. The agreement concerns spending-bill earmarks that deal with for-profit entities. Five 2010 spending bills have cleared both chambers and may see final action in coming weeks.

Congress also hasn’t passed a new multiyear Federal Aviation Administration authorization for airport construction grants. The latest in a series of legislative stopgaps lapses on Sept. 30. The House and Senate have approved a three-month FAA extension, which awaits President Obama’s signature.