Senators push six-month highway bill extension

| 11/19/2009

U.S. senators with a stake in transportation policy are urging Senate leadership to support a six-month extension to the current highway bill.

The group is led by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, and Sen. James Inhofe, R-OK, chairman and ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee respectively. They said states need the certainty of a multi-month extension to move forward on transportation projects. Congress continues to work behind the scenes on a new five- or six-year highway bill.

Members of seven committees signed on to the Boxer-Inhofe letter, dated Tuesday, Nov. 17. The letter urges Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to endorse the six-month extension to the 2005 highway bill known as SAFETEA-LU.

Because SAFETEA-LU technically expired Sept. 30, Congress has had to keep the program alive and funded through continuing resolutions. The current continuing resolution expires Dec. 18.

“Short-term extensions mean less money is available for states, and do not provide states the certainty they need to keep crucial transportation projects moving forward,” the group stated in the letter to leadership.

The position taken by the group backs away from a previous call for an 18-month extension.

The six-month version is not without opposition. Sen. George Voinovich, R-OH, a member of the Senate EPW Committee, is lobbying for Congress to forgo all short-term extensions and pass a six-year authorization bill immediately.

The committee called on U.S. DOT officials on Wednesday, Nov. 18, to brief them about short-term versus long-term options for transportation.

The panelists said that states stand to lose 30 percent of their transportation funding when continuing resolutions are used in place of a longer-term replacement. In addition, costs continue to go up when major projects are delayed.

Earlier this year, the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee drafted a six-year replacement for SAFETEA-LU, but the bill has not been officially introduced. The committee does not yet have a funding strategy. Estimates put the bill at $450 billion to $500 billion.

A spokesman for the House T&I Committee told Land Line that the committee leadership does not plan to take a position on the Senate’s six-month proposal until closer to the Dec. 18 expiration date of the current continuing resolution.

– By David Tanner, staff writer