A new 27-month highway-transit measure is close to congressional approval, after nearly 33 months of short-term funding extensions. Leading Senate and House negotiators said June 27 they had reached agreement on the new bill, which would fund surface-transportation programs through Sept. 30, 2014.
Construction and transportation industry officials, who have lobbied hard since at least 2009 to get a long-term bill, hailed the news from Capitol Hill. National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association Chairman Ronald Summers, said, “This is an extraordinary step toward the passage of a final bill; however, we are not there yet.”
The bill still has a few hurdles ahead. It next will go to the House and Senate floors for votes. Key lawmakers and industry officials hope for final congressional approval by June 30, when a current stopgap authorization lapses. If it clears both chambers, the measure would go to the White House for President Obama’s signature.
Over fiscal years 2013 and 2014, the measure would authorize $79.4 billion for highways, $17.1 billion for transit, and $1.4 billion for highway safety programs. It also would provide additional funding for June through September of this year.
The new legislation represents a compromise between the $109-billion, two-year bill that the Senate approved in March and the three-month bill—including significant non-transportation provisions—that the House passed in April.
In the final negotiating push, the House side agreed to drop the non-transportation items, including language to direct quick U.S. approval for the Keystone XL oil pipeline and a provision that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste.
The Senate agreed to drop language providing aid for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Along with the highway and transit funding, the bill includes provisions that mandate important changes in surface-transportation policy, including steps to accelerate highway and transit project approval and sharply reduce the number of federal surface-transportation programs and funding categories.
The measure also gives a huge funding boost to the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program, which provides loans and loan guarantees for major projects. Under the new bill, direct aid to TIFIA would climb to $750 million in fiscal 2013 and $1 billion in 2014, up from $122 million a year now.
TIFIA is attractive to states, localities, and congressional lawmakers because each dollar of direct federal subsidy supports $10 in loan value. Thus the $1-billion authorized for 2014 would back $10 billion in loans for projects.