Federal Update
Senators want a long-term highway bill and continued reforms

By David Tanner, associate editor

An actual highway bill is not a reality yet, but Senate transportation leaders say they have agreed to some basic principles for it. First and foremost, they want a long-term bill that would provide certainty to states and agencies that receive federal transportation funding. They also want to keep the formulas and reforms that were established in 2012.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and ranking member Sen. David Vitter, R-La., announced their agreement in mid-April alongside Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Sen. John Barrasso, R.-Wyo., the respective chairman and ranking member of the EPW Committee’s Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee.

“The reason the four of us are standing here is to send a strong signal to this country that we, as leaders of this committee, have worked across party lines to act before the Highway Trust Fund cannot pay its bills,” Boxer stated.

Analysts say the trust fund could go broke this summer.

The EPW Committee has jurisdiction over highway funding.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has jurisdiction over the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and will draft portions related to safety and technology.

The Senate Finance Committee will debate ways to fund the bill overall. Funding remains the largest hurdle as the bill progresses, especially since many lawmakers have already ruled out a possible increase in federal fuel taxes – the main source of road and bridge funding.

The current highway bill – MAP-21, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, which was approved in 2012 – is set to expire on Sept. 30 of this year.

House leaders are also working on their respective draft of the bill.

Not to be ignored in the equation is the November 2014 federal election, which puts 435 seats in the House and 33 seats in the Senate up for grabs.

One transportation leader who will not be running is U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., who announced his retirement as his 18th term comes to an end. He is the current chairman of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, part of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. LL