The Senate voted last week to approve a two-year, $109 billion transportation funding measure, forcing the House to act days before the current program and the gas taxes supporting federal programs expire on March 31.The 74–22 vote for Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) reflected the efforts of the Senate’s transportation leaders to find a bipartisan path on an issue that has eluded compromise since federal transportation programs expired in September 2009.
House action has stalled due to opponents from both parties disagreeing over the direction of the House bill, which financed the program by expanded oil and gas exploration, approval of the Keystone pipeline and funding only highway programs from gas tax revenues.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) praised the Senate vote and the bipartisan leadership of Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.).
MAP-21 would consolidate multiple federal programs into a few, providing greater flexibility for states in making spending decisions, but giving less authority to local governments and the metropolitan planning organizations that represent them. Senators included a number of amendments that would make the bill more responsive to local needs, including funding for local bridges, support for metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) and local grants for programs such as Safe Routes to Schools and bicycle and pedestrian walkways.
The bill also extends the tax benefit for transit commuters at the same level as tax breaks for parking and removes wastewater programs from the private activity bond cap.
Concern over impending shortfalls in federal gas tax revenues clouds the future of the federal transportation program. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that federal gas tax funds for highways will run out in 2013 and for transit programs in 2014. Initially, the House proposed a 34 percent cut in funding to ensure the availability of funding over a five-year period, but Senate leaders chose to spend available funding in two years.
Key changes in MAP-21 include:
- Sets national policy goals and performance measures, including congestion, improved access to multiple travel options, support for manufacturing and reducing impacts on the environment and adjacent communities.
- Streamlines project delivery.
- Maintains existing funding levels.
- Holds states accountable for the safe upkeep of roads and bridges.
- Maintains local control over a share of funds and ensures access to funding for safer walking and bicycling.
- Includes emergency provisions to allow transit agencies to avoid service cuts and fare hikes.
- Extends the commuter benefit for transit users, commensurate with parking benefits for drivers.
- Helps communities make plans to meet the growing demand for walkable neighborhoods with access to jobs, services and public transportation.
- Ensures that federal funds support streets that are safe and complete for everyone who uses them, whether motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, wheelchair users or transit riders.
The National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) commended the Senate on “moving forward this important national priority and will continue to press the House to agree to a reauthorization bill prior to the expiration of the current extension on March 31.”
American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) President and CEO Pete Ruane said, “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 Sens. Boxer (D-Calif.), Inhofe (R-Okla.), and 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.”
Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) President Dennis Slater said, “AEM and its more than 870 member companies, their tens of thousands of employees, and the national grassroots I Make America campaign thank the U.S. Senate for working together in a bipartisan way to pass this critical two-year reauthorization of the highway bill. Passed by a resounding bipartisan vote of 74 to 22, S. 1813 reforms the way highway programs are administered, allowing for quicker and more efficient project approval, and provides a stable source of surface transportation funding, creating the certainty state departments of transportation need to plan, and American businesses need to invest, hire and grow.
“We especially commend Sen. Barbara Boxer, chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Sen. James Inhofe, the committee’s ranking Republican, for their persistence, dedication and commitment to the spirit of bipartisan cooperation that has resulted in this well-crafted legislation,” Salter said. “There is no single piece of legislation pending before Congress that will do more to immediately create American jobs and sharpen our global competitiveness. Now that the Senate has acted so decisively and by such a wide bipartisan margin, the finish line is in sight, and AEM calls on the House to move immediately to the highway bill when it returns to session next week. Only 18 days remain until the current program extension expires on March 31. The House must follow the Senate’s example, pass this legislation, and get America moving again.”