The U.S. Senate has decided to go along with a House plan that gives Congress a little more time to hammer out a long-term plan to fund highway and transit projects.
In a voice vote Wednesday, the day before federal surface transportation spending was to be shutdown, the Senate passed an extension good until Nov. 20. The measure also extends the positive train control implementation deadline from the end of this year to Dec. 31, 2018.
In July the upper chamber approved its version of a new, six-year transportation program. The House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) committee last week finalized the policy portion of their $325 billion plan, and the extension is expected to provide enough time to develop funding and bring the bill to a floor vote. The House and Senate would then hammer out an agreement.
“Our country needs a consensus-based, bipartisan, long-term surface transportation bill that will provide states and local communities the funding and certainty to plan and construct multi-year projects to modernize our infrastructure,” said the architects of the Senate highway bill, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), chairman of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), ranking member, in a joint statement. “It is time for the House and Senate to get to conference so that we can work out our differences and get the job done now. There are no excuses for further delay.”
Indeed, the negotiations are expected to move quickly since the two legislative packages are closely aligned, including a number of provisions important to trucking such as reform of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and its Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program.
Some highway safety advocates, however, are rallying to oppose any reduction in regulatory oversight of the trucking industry.
“This legislation is an opportunity to reverse the upward trend of the truck crash death and injury toll,” the Truck Safety Coalition wrote to supporters Wednesday. “If the safety title in the bill is not enhanced when the House and Senate meet in conference on the legislation, the American public will pay with their lives and their wallets.”
Along with the proposed CSA changes, the groups oppose lowering the age at which commercial drivers may haul interstate loads; a delay in any increase in the minimum carrier insurance levels; and shipper/broker liability protections in carrier selection.
The coalition also opposes any increase in truck size and weight, including language that would permit 33-ft. double trailers and increase to 91,000 pounds the maximum truck weight on Interstate highways.
Congress has not passed a long-term highway bill in a decade.