Highway bill extension clears Senate committee

A short-term extension of the highway spending bill that will keep infrastructure projects going was passed by a Senate committee last week

A short-term extension of the highway spending bill that will keep infrastructure projects going was passed by a Senate committee last week.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously approved the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012, which funds highway programs at current levels through Jan. 31, 2012. It is the eighth extension of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users that expired in 2009.

Trucking advocates have pushed for the highway bill to be extended before it expires Sept. 30. Transportation interests feared the gas tax would be the next standoff between Democrats and Republican in Congress.

The House and the Senate versions of the bill vary widely. The Senate has recommended spending $109 billion on transportation over two years, while he House proposal would spend $235 billion over six years.

“Passing the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012 is essential. It’s a no-brainer,” said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla, ranking Republican on the committee. “What matters is passing a two-year bill. If we fail to enact an extension prior to the end of this fiscal year, thousands of highway projects will be at risk of being stopped in their tracks, which would threaten tens of thousands of jobs. We’ve passed seven highway extensions since the last highway bill expired in 2009. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this extension.

“Congress must not fail in swiftly delivering this measure to the president before the program expires on Sept. 30, 2011,” he said. “Failure by Congress to act would ultimately impact transportation safety, mobility, and emergency response operations, would threaten our national economic competitiveness, as well as jeopardize thousands of jobs across the country.”

Democrats also support extending the bill.

“Failing to extend this law would jeopardize hundreds of thousands of construction jobs at a time when unemployment in the industry remains sky high,” Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said.

“The American people didn’t send us here to make unemployment worse and allow our roads to crumble—and that’s why we must act swiftly to extend this law,” he continued. “Instead of putting up roadblocks to this extension, I hope our colleagues will work with us to fix the economy, help Americans get back to work and keep our country moving forward. Once we have passed this short-term fix, we need to complete work on a long-term bill that strengthens investment in our national transportation network to create jobs, maintain our roads and bridges, and invest in rail and transit to ease commutes.”

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