Action is heating up in Congress on transportation spending bills, both for 2012 and the long-delayed multiyear highway-transit measure. However, it is still up in the air how much money Congress will approve.
House and Senate negotiations formally began on Nov. 3 on a fiscal 2012 appropriations package for the Depts. of Transportation, Commerce, Justice, Agriculture, and Housing and Urban Development. Construction officials like the Senate's numbers for key DOT programs, including a $41.1-billion highway obligation limit, the same as 2011's; $10.6 billion for mass transit, up 6% from 2011; $550 million for TIGER grants for select projects, up 4%; and $100 million for high-speed rail, which got zero in 2011.
The House levels, as set by an appropriations subcommittee, are much lower: $27 billion for the highway obligation limit, $7 billion for transit and nothing for TIGER grants and high-speed rail.
Brian Deery, senior director of the Associated General Contractors highway and transportation division, is hopeful the House will agree to higher levels, maybe even as high as the Senate's figures. He says, "There seems to be sentiment [in the House] that they want to … fully fund the program this year and hopefully for the next several years." Lawmakers aim to finish the bill by Nov. 18, when a federal spending stopgap expires.
There is movement on a long-term surface transportation bill, too. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee was slated to vote on Nov. 9 on a bill authorizing $85.3 billion for highways over two years. But reaching that amount, sources say, would require finding about $12 billion to supplement what the Highway Trust Fund is projected to provide.
In the House on Nov. 3, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he hopes to move a surface-transportation bill by the end of 2011. As he signaled in September, Boehner said he would like to link expanded U.S. oil and gas drilling to transportation in the envisioned bill.
However, the $60 billion for infrastructure that President Obama proposed on Sept. 8 in his jobs bill looks dead. On Nov. 3, the Senate blocked Obama's $60-billion plan as well as a GOP-proposed two-year transportation bill.