The U.S. Senate today approved a two-year transportation authorization bill. Valued at $109 billion, the approval comes just 17 days before the latest extension of SAFETEA-LU expires. In that 17 days, the House needs to reassemble its stalled attempt at a transportation bill and deliver a bill to President Obama’s desk.
The Senate bill consolidates federal transportation programs from about 90 to fewer than 30, streamlines the environmental approval process to help projects finish faster and takes steps to encourage more private investment.
The bill also requires safety standards for transit systems for the first time.
“We have federal safety standards for planes, trains and automobiles. We need them for transit systems like Washington’s Metro,” Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said. “I will keep pushing forward on reforming Metro until it’s safe for the people who work on it and the people who ride on it.”
The Senate bill provides no long-term solution to the widening gap between Highway Trust Fund revenue and the needs of the country’s crumbling infrastructure. It transfers $3.7 billion from a trust fund for leaking underground storage tanks and adds $2.8 billion by ending a tax credit for making paper.
American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Executive Director John Horsley issued a statement, saying, "Members of the U.S. Senate are to be commended today, for their strong, bipartisan, passage of S. 1813—a multiyear, $109 billion surface transportation reauthorization bill that sustains highway and transit funding at current levels. This important accomplishment could not have been achieved without the leadership of Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chairman and ranking member, respectively; and Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the Senate Finance Committee chairman and ranking member, respectively."
"Their bipartisan approach helped set a path forward for this bill that not only provides a greater degree of funding certainty for states, it also establishes reforms that will streamline project delivery, consolidate programs and improve performance reporting and accountability."
Horsley said another short-term extension of the previous transportation authorization would be necessary to "give Congress time to reach agreement on a final bill that everyone agrees is important to America."
American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) President & CEO Pete Ruane issued this statement:
"Today's overwhelming 74-to-22 vote in favor of the highway and transit investment bill is proof that bipartisanship is still alive in the Senate and that Republicans and Democrats can find common ground on important policy issues that impact most Americans.
"We thank Senators Boxer (D-Calif.), Inhofe (R-Okla.), Baucus (D-Mont.) for their steadfast leadership in getting the job done, and all of the senators who supported the measure.
"The bill's provisions to maintain highway and transit investment levels, including adjustments for inflation, will help provide stability for the transportation construction market in the immediate future.
"The legislation also features a host of critical reforms ARTBA has advocated for years to speed delivery of transportation projects, build accountability in order to meet national goals, and provide greater flexibility to states in addressing their infrastructure needs.
"With the construction industry reeling from an unemployment rate that is more than double the national average, time is of the essence. It's imperative that the House complete action on its surface transportation bill when it reconvenes the week of March 19 so that a conference committee can reconcile the differences and get a final measure to President Obama as soon as possible."