Congress at press time was nearing approval of a temporary spending bill that would avert a shutdown of federal agencies on Oct. 1 and keep construction and other programs running through the first six months of fiscal year 2013. It would boost funding slightly over 2012 levels.

Some key Senate Democrats blasted the highway-and-transit funding portion of the new continuing resolution (CR), saying it falls short of the amounts in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), signed into law on July 6. But industry officials say immediate changes in the CR are unlikely as many in Congress want to end the session quickly to campaign for the upcoming elections.

Congress is expected to revisit 2013 spending either in a brief post-election lame-duck session or in early 2013. To fund the second half of fiscal 2013, some action is needed by March 27, when the stopgap expires. That deadline gives legislators an opportunity to try to add funds for transportation and make other changes.

The CR took a big step forward on Sept. 13, when the House passed it on a 329-91 vote. The CR provides a tiny 0.6% across-the-board hike over 2012 levels for domestic discretionary programs, which include most construction accounts.

But Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) say the CR's highway, transit and highway safety funding is $620 million less than MAP-21 authorizes. The three, all committee chairs, asked House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to add back the $620 million, but the House didn't agree.

Brian Deery, senior director of the Associated General Contractors highway and transportation division, says Boxer and her colleagues are "not happy with what's in the CR right now, but I think that they intend on taking care of that problem when they come back, either in the lame duck or in the new Congress."

John Doyle, special counsel with law and lobbying firm Jones Walker LLP, says, "My sense [is that] the most likely scenario is … they'll raise some hell on the floor and then let it go through." Doyle adds, "Rather than try and upset the apple cart and open the CR up for that [transportation] issue or any of the myriad other issues, [lawmakers will say] 'We'll try and fix that problem as we go forward after the election at some point.' "

In all, the CR funds domestic discretionary programs at the $1.047-trillion annual rate established in 2011's Budget Control Act. That amount is $5.9 billion more than the enacted fiscal 2012 base appropriations and $19 billion above the $1.028 trillion recommended in the FY 2013 budget resolution that the House passed in April.