- The House of Representatives approved a $325 billion highway bill on a 363-64 vote Thursday. The bill lays out six years of spending policy but only includes three years of funding. The House bill must still be reconciled with the Senate’s, which also has only three years of funding.
- The bill provides state and local governments with money and a federal plan for highways, bridges and transit programs. A final bill must be complete before the most recent funding extension expires on Nov. 20, and lawmakers in charge of Senate highway policy said it’s possible Congress could send a bill to President Obama before Thanksgiving.
- After 35 short-term extensions, reaction to the passage of this long-awaited bill, from government officials as well as the private sector, has been mostly positive. Democrats, however, are critical of the Republicans’ successful efforts to block an increase in gas taxes to help fund the bill.
The Highway Trust Fund relies on an 18.4-cent-per-gallon tax, established in 1993. Democrats maintain the tax has not kept pace with inflation and a reduced use of gasoline.
"I’m deeply disappointed that we are considering what alleges to be a six-year authorization without a real conversation about paying for it," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.
Construction industry reaction was understandably enthusiastic, as the funding uncertainty from Washington has interfered with states being able to plan their highway and infrastructure capital programs. Caterpillar attributed a portion of its decrease in sales to lack of a federal highway plan, and the Associated General Contractors of America contends the lack of a bill in place has contributed to construction job losses.
"It is encouraging to see overwhelming House support for a long-term highway and transit measure. Today’s vote sends a strong message that Washington officials can find a way to work together to help address crucial problems like aging roads, decaying transit systems and unsafe bridges," said AGC CEO Stephen Sandherr in a statement following passage of the House bill.
However, Sandherr added that Congress has still failed to address long-term funding issues and said the AGC will "work aggressively to make sure that Congress not only completes this vital measure but that our elected leaders include a viable, long-term solution for funding future transportation investments either in this measure or another bill."