House passes short extension of highway program VDOT photo

House passes short extension of highway program

Senate must act by Thursday deadline

The House of Representatives on Tuesday easily approved a short extension of the current federal surface transportation funding authorization, or highway bill, to give the lawmakers a little more time to come up a way to fund a new, $325 billion package currently working its way through the House. The Senate must act by Thursday to beat the expiration deadline for the previous extension of MAP-21.

“Last week, the Transportation Committee unanimously approved bipartisan, multi-year surface transportation legislation, and today’s Surface Transportation Extension Act will ensure that states can continue to fund transportation projects while Congress continues to make progress on the multi-year bill,” said T&I Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA).

The extension, as with the long-term legislation, received bipartisan support.

“I’ve had many colleagues on my side say, ‘I’m really tired of these short-term extensions,’ but I said this is different,” added Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), ranking member of the T&I committee. “We have the policy in place, and I urge members on my side of the aisle to support this proposal.”

Yet it wouldn’t be a DeFazio floor speech without some chiding of Congress for failing to have the political will to raise the fuel tax and support the Highway Trust Fund.  

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“There’s not too much to make partisan about moving goods and people from here to there efficiently, so that’s the good news,” DeFazio said. “The bad news is we still do not have the funding mechanism before us. America is falling apart—it’s embarrassing, actually. … It’s pretty darn pathetic that we are not holding up our end of the bargain [to fund roads and bridges].”

However, under the looming economic threat of the shutdown of rail chemical shipments, the extension also includes a provision to delay the implementation deadline for positive train control (PTC) for three years.

“A PTC-related rail shutdown would pull $30 billion out of the economy in one quarter alone, and lead to 700,000 jobs lost in just in one month,” Shuster said. “It is our responsibility to extend this deadline now and avoid hard to the economy.”

And that additional language might be an impediment in the Senate. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), ranking Democrat on the committee that crafted the policy portion of the Senate’s version of the highway bill, has said she favors extending the PTC mandate for a few months, but not until 2018.

The Senate has until Thursday to beat the expiration deadline set by Congress last summer. The Dept. Of Transportation’s Highway Trust Fund “ticker” projects the balance could fall below $4 billion in November, meaning federal reimbursements to the states could be curtailed.

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