ISTEA Reauthorization Likely Not Timely

Article December 28, 2000
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Key indicators in Washington, D.C., are pointing to the
probability that Congress will miss the Sept. 30 deadline for
reauthorization of federal surface transportation legislation.

The reason I, along with many others here "inside the
Beltway," am drawing that conclusion is that neither the House
Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure nor the Senate
Committee on Environment & Public Works has scheduled a session
to formally approve reauthorization. Congress will be in recess
beginning the first of August, and will not return until
September at which time there is still no guarantee that
reauthorization legislation will be on the front burner.

Part of the reason for the delay stems from disagreement between
the House and Senate over what is the best way to craft
legislation providing significant increases in overall funding
levels.

The funding levels are confined by the parameters
set under the budget agreement now being worked out. This
agreement would restrict federal road and bridge funding to a
level of about $22 billion to $23 billion a year.

House
Transportation & Infrastructure Chairman Bud Schuster (R-Pa.)
apparently has decided to play a waiting game. He has discussed
at various times the idea of putting forth a one-year program in
order to wait and see what happens with the ever improving
economy and its impact on the deficit. He also has floated the
idea of a three-year plan, which would generate significantly
increased highway funding by spending all of the money during
the first three years of the program.

The Senate
leaders-Sen. John Chafee (R-R.I.), Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) and
Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.)-all have indicated they will not
support either a one-year or a three-year plan.

Both the
Senate and House are pushing for increased funding, but the
disagreement on how to get there could result in their missing
the deadline.

We all know this would not be the first time
that such a deadline was missed. In 1986, it took until April
1987 to get a bill passed over President Reagan's veto because
of the demonstration projects that it included. Congress again
missed the deadline by a few months when it passed the current
ISTEA legislation in 1991. And again in 1995, Congress missed
the Sept. 30 deadline for approving legislation to enact the
National Highway System.

As it has in the past, The Road
Information Program (TRIP) is gearing up to take action as the
deadline approaches. We are sending surveys out to the state
DOTs asking them to identify the impact a delay would have on
the nation's highway system and to identify specific projects
that may be affected as a result of any delay. We will then
release that information to the news media to generate coverage
in targeted states.

Wilkins is the executive director of The
Road Information Program. You may write him in care of the
editor.

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