Filed October 22, 2015 (Updated on October 26 — The Transportation & Infrastructure Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives last week approved the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015, or STRRA (H.R. 3763). In related news, the T&I Leadership, along with the House Ways & Means Committee Chairman, today introduced a short term extension to Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21, signed into law on July 6, 2012.
Highway Bill Extension Update
The extension, Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2015 (H.R. 3819), is a bipartisan bill that funds and extends the authorization for federal highway and transit programs through November 20. The bill was was introduced today by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Shuster (R-Pa.09), Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.-04), and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.-01).
More About STRRA
As drafted, STRRA is a multi-year, $325 billion surface transportation bill. The final voice vote was an important step, and like the recent Senate approval of the DRIVE Act, signals a commitment by both chambers to move forward. Even so, there is still uncertainty about what comes next and when.
“Although STRRA is an improvement over the short-term extensions that have prevented state departments of transportation and the transportation construction industry from long-term planning, it lacks the long-term certainty required for adequate planning and cost-efficient resource investment,” said Leif G. Wathne, P.E., ACPA Executive Vice President.
Funding Remains Sticking Point
A fundamental issue is that STRRA contain six years of Highway Trust Fund contract authority, but the bill presently has no “pay fors,” which means the Highway Trust Fund would once again face depletion by mid-2016. More than $32 billion in funding is needed now, but in addition to that amount, there would need to be another $50 billion added to the HTF by September 2018 for the bill to be a true six-year bill.
“We are pleased and grateful to see this important and decisive step by the T&I Committee,” said Leif G. Wathne, P.E., ACPA Executive Vice President. “Even so, we are concerned that the status quo funding levels in the act are inadequate. It is our view that Congress should take every available opportunity to increase investment levels, which should be based on improving pavement and bridge conditions and performance. We believe the best way to fund the program in the short to medium term is with an increase in the motor fuels excise tax, combined with annual indexing.”
Wathne’s concerns, along with other issues, were included in a letter penned by the Highway Materials Group earlier this week. Click here to view the letter.
What’s Next and When?
The typical process is for the House Ways & Means Committee to address the funding issue, but with Ways & Mean Chairman Ryan preparing to transition to Speaker of the House (pending approval by a vote likely this week), this looks increasingly unlikely in the short time remaining before the current extension expires at the end next week.
The House could adopt the funding levels and revenue mechanisms utilized in the DRIVE Act, the Senate-approved version of the transportation bill, passed the day before the August break. There appears to be reluctance by the House to do this, however.
Both the House and Senate bills would maintain the current spending level of about $50 billion per year for transportation projects, adjusted for inflation, according to an article in THE HILL today. To reach that level of spending, Congress will have to come up with approximately $16 billion per year to supplement revenue from the gas tax, which has not been increased since 1993, the article continues.
To close the gap long enough to pay for three years’ worth of road funding, the Senate approved a package of approximately $47 billion of offsets.
Senate Environment & Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) say it is still possible for lawmakers to get a long-term highway bill to Obama by the end of November, now that the House highway bill has cleared its first committee test.
Pavement Technology Provision in Place
In spite of the funding challenges, Wathne reiterated support and praise for the House action this week. He added that an import ant provision, which benefits agencies, the industry, and the traveling public, is included in the House version of the bill.
The Accelerated Implementation and Deployment of Pavement Technology (AID-PT) provision, was first included in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP 21. This ACPA-led initiative created both a mechanism and funding for the delivery of pavement technology. The FHWA is now in its third year of implementation. Subset programs stemming from AID-PT have been delivered by the National Concrete Pavement Technology Center, and both ACPA and NAPA have active roles in fostering stewardship and continuation of the program.