Key Senate Committee Passes Transportation Bill

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously approved S.2322, the MAP-21 Reauthorization Act, a long-term bipartisan bill to reauthorize the nation’s transportation programs for six years at current funding plus inflation, illustrating broad bipartisan support for passage by the full Senate.

The legislation is cosponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee; Senator David Vitter (R-La.), ranking member of the Committee; Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee; and Senator John Barrasso (R-Wy.), ranking member of the Subcommittee.

“Today’s passage sends a powerful signal to our colleagues and to our nation that we are serious about addressing the looming funding crisis in the Highway Trust Fund,” Sen. Boxer said. “I am proud of this strong, bipartisan bill that helps provide the certainty that all of our states and cities need to move forward with critical infrastructure and transportation projects. Thanks to all of our members for their work on this job-creating legislation.”

Sen. Vitter reiterated his support for the bill: “It’s important to improve our nation’s roads and bridges and help provide traffic relief, so we can carry out on daily routine, like picking up the kids from practice. Our nation’s infrastructure needs attention and updates. Today’s vote in the EPW Committee is a testament to the overwhelming bipartisan support of this urgently needed legislation.”

The legislation builds on the success of the comprehensive reforms and performance-based approach to transportation investment in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). It provides long-term funding, giving state and local governments the certainty and stability they need to improve and develop our nation’s transportation infrastructure.

These investments will create new jobs, provide a boost to the economy, and keep us competitive in the global marketplace. MAP-21 expires on September 30, and the Highway Trust Fund is projected to run out of funds this summer.

“Today the Environment and Public Works Committee took an important step forward on the way to passing a long-term transportation bill,” said Sen. Carper. “I thank Chairman Boxer and Ranking Member Vitter for leading a thoughtful and bipartisan process as this committee drafted and reported out this critical piece of the legislation. I understand that the other Senate committees with jurisdiction on the transportation package are also working diligently on their respective pieces of the bill. This is particularly important for those of us who also serve on the Senate Finance Committee. We need to work in a similar bipartisan fashion to quickly come to agreement on a fiscally responsible way to fund these crucial investments in our nation’s infrastructure.”

Senator Barrasso also touted the bill. “Today, we made more progress in advancing legislation that will help ensure Americans continue to have a safe and working transportation system,” he said. “This bill fulfills my top priorities: it’s fiscally responsible and it provides new flexibility and equity for rural states like Wyoming. I’ll remain focused on protecting taxpayer dollars and responding to the needs of rural Americans who rely on federal highways every day.”

S. 2322 will now go to the full Senate for consideration, where it will be combined with measures from the Senate Committee on Finance, Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

Prior to the vote on the bill, National Stone, Sand and Gravel (NSSGA) President and CEO Mike Johnson said, “I commend Chairman Boxer and Ranking Member Vitter on their good work in drafting a multi-year, level-funded surface transportation reauthorization bill. The introduction of the bill is another very positive step forward and today’s work by the committee is yet another. However, Congress has a lot of work to do and not much time to do it if our nation is to avoid the rapidly approaching crisis facing the Highway Trust Fund. NSSGA will redouble our advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill to take advantage of this momentum to push Congress to get the job done.”

Detractors, such as The Heritage Group, maintain that the bill:

  • Fails to eliminate diversions to local or non-road programs. The bill would continue to divert federal gas taxes paid by motorists to fund purely local programs and activities that have no relationship to road and bridge improvements. The bicycle paths and historic-style street lamps funded under the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) provide an example.
  • Reduces flexibility for the states. One example is the restrictions placed on how states can allocate the funding they set aside for TAP-eligible projects. Under current law, half of a state’s TAP funding must be allocated to areas according to population, and the other half is up to the state’s discretion. This new proposal would shrink this discretionary portion to one-third of the state’s total TAP funding. Short of eliminating TAP, at minimum Congress should give the states greater flexibility in how they spend their gas tax dollars.
  • Does not live within its means. The bill proposes increased spending on core highway programs and other programs, plus $125 million annually for a new “competitive grant” program, but it does not reduce spending elsewhere. It continues Congress’s habit of increasing spending when the money is not there, which is one reason why the balance in the Highway Trust Fund is nearly depleted.

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