A new highway-transit reauthorization bill and the first water-resources measure since 2007 lead the list of unfinished construction legislation as the 113th Congress begins its new session.
By far, construction's top 2014 legislative priority is a successor to the 2012 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21, the current surface-transportation law. The statute expires on Sept. 30, putting public-works committees under severe time pressure to produce a new bill.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) told a Jan. 14 hearing his goal is to have a bill on the chamber's floor by the August recess. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee was expected to hold an initial hearing, too.
Jeff Shoaf, Associated General Contractors senior executive director for government affairs, says, "We don't think there are a lot of big [policy] changes that need to be made to MAP-21." Still, getting a multi-year measure done by Sept. 30 will be a long shot. Most important, no consensus has emerged about the critical post-MAP-21 issue—that is, where to find the money to shore up the ailing Highway Trust Fund. The fund's highway account is expected to drop into the red sometime in fiscal 2015, which starts on Oct. 1, 2014. More funds would be needed to avoid cutting highway and transit programs.
Lobbyists recognize the task ahead. "I know how difficult it will be," says Pam Whitted, National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association senior vice president for legislative and regulatory affairs. But she adds, "We've still got time, and we will be doing all we can to get it passed." If Congress misses the Sept. 30 date, an extension would be needed. MAP-21 was 27 months late, requiring 10 stopgaps.
Further along is a new Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA. House-Senate talks to reconcile differences between bills that each chamber passed last year began on Nov. 20 on a hopeful note. But there has been little apparent progress since mid-December.
"I don't think they're anywhere close to being finished," an industry source says. "As close as I can tell, they haven't reached preliminary agreement on any ... of the major outstanding issues that separate the House and Senate bills." A Senate aide said "discussions are continuing."
Greg Cohen, American Highway Users Alliance president, hopes the WRDA talks will get on track. "What we were looking at was the progress on the WRDA bill serving as sort of a momentum-builder for the highway bill. ... They need to get the job done."
On immigration, the House won't take up the broad-based bill the Senate passed in 2013 but may focus on one or more narrowly focused measures.