Senate passes SAFETEA-LU extension

Highway and bridge construction industry will have another six months of funding

Funding News AGC, AASHTO, AHUA September 16, 2011
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The Senate yesterday approved H.R. 2887, the Surface and Air Transportation Programs Extension Act of 2011, which extends SAFETEA-LU authorization for six months until March 31, 2012 and FAA authorization for four and a half months until January 31, 2012, according to the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). The bill would authorization funding at current levels and authorize collection of the federal motor fuels tax and the airline ticket tax to continue. The bill was approved Tuesday by the House and will now go to the President for his signature.

Passage comes in time to avoid a second partial shutdown of the FAA programs starting at Midnight on Friday.

The American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO) commended Congress for extending the surface transportation and aviation programs at current funding levels.

"The six-month extension of federal highway and transit programs approved by Congress today ensures the continuation of thousands of job-creating infrastructure projects in every state," said John Horsley, AASHTO executive director. "We congratulate the House and Senate leadership on both sides of the aisle for their tireless hard work to bring about this positive result. We encourage the president to quickly sign the legislation. AASHTO is prepared to work with Congress and the administration over the next six months to pass a robust, multiyear surface transportation reauthorization bill."

When the bill came to the Senate, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) objected to the legislation being brought up under a unanimous consent motion, according to the AGC. Sen. Coburn wanted to amend the bill to eliminate the mandatory 10% set-aside of Surface Transportation Program (STP) highway formula funding for "transportation enhancements." The enhancement funding has been largely used to fund bike trails, pedestrian facilities, bus shelters, transportation museums and other such projects. While there is support for Sen. Coburn’s effort to eliminate the enhancement program restrictions, it is one of the reforms to the highway program that is being addressed in the long-term authorization bill, and many support taking up the issue in the context of the SAFETEA-LU reauthorization. Senator Coburn eventually agreed to let the bill go forward.

In addition, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) sought to amend the bill to cut the funding levels in the highway program to levels supported by Highway Trust Fund revenue and to cut FAA funding to 2008 levels. Sen. Paul’s amendments were brought up for consideration and defeated.

H.R. 2887 is the eighth extension of SAFETEA-LU. House Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Reid reached an agreement on the contents of the bill over the weekend, according to the American Highway Users Alliance (AHUA). The agreement kept the bill “clean,” meaning that no changes in policy are included and at current post-rescission funding levels ($39.0 billion for highways annualized). Contract authority totaling $19.9 billion for highway construction, $660 million for NHTSA highway safety programs and $5.1 billion for transit was approved through March 31, 2012.

The next step is for Congress to appropriate the authorized funds. This will initially be done through a short-term “continuing resolution.” We expect that the first continuing resolution will keep funding levels stable, said AHUA. Ultimately, final funding levels will be affected by the different perspectives of the House and Senate appropriations committees, the work of the “Super Committee” and possibly could even be affected by the unlikely prospects of Congress agreeing to some jobs bill(s) with infrastructure elements to it.

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