By a vote of 251-167, the House of Representatives approved the FY 2011 transportation appropriations bill on July 29. Included in the bill is $45.2 billion for the federal-aid highway program, an increase of $4.1 billion (10%) over the 2010 funding level of $41.1 billion. The transit program is funded at $11.3 billion, an increase of $575 million over this year’s level of $10.7 billion. The Airport Improvement Program remains at this year’s level of $3.5 billion. High-speed and intercity passenger rail is funded at $1.4 billion, a cut of $1.1 billion below the FY 2010 level.
An amendment offered by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) was approved eliminating the transfer of $200 million from the highway program to a new “livable communities” grant program administered by the U.S. DOT linking transportation and land-use planning. The Obama administration asked for this funding as part of its budget request. DeFazio argued that this new program should be addressed as part of an overall reauthorization bill and not be considered as part of an appropriations bill.
The appropriations bill is an important part of the annual funding process; however, it does not solve the underlying problem of not having authorization legislation in place, and it does not address the revenue shortage in the Highway Trust Fund. The highway and transit programs are currently operating under a short-term authorization that expires on Dec. 30. If a long-term reauthorization measure is not enacted by that date, Congress must again approve a short-term extension to avoid a shutdown in highway and transit funding. Highway Trust Fund revenue is insufficient to support the funding level that was approved by the House.
In March 2010, $20 billion was transferred from the general fund to ensure that the Highway Trust Fund could meet its obligations. That funding is projected to support the current funding levels through August 2011. Congress will have to take action to further shore up the Highway Trust Fund to support the increased funding levels in the House bill.
The Senate Appropriations Committee last week passed its version of the FY 2011 transportation funding bill. Funding for the transportation programs in the Senate bill is at much lower levels than the House bill, as follows: highway program $41.9 million; transit program $10.6 billion; airport Improvement program $3.5 billion; and high-speed rail $1 billion. The Senate is not scheduled to take up the measure until after the Congressional summer recess.