SPECIAL REPORT: Home stretch for the Highway Bill?

| 7/20/2005

The two-year Congressional battle for a highway bill has been extended two more days as House and Senate negotiators try to resolve differences about Highway Trust Fund allocations and money for public transportation.

The mini-extension was the ninth Congress granted to itself since the 1998 Highway Bill expired in September 2003. Funding levels set in the 1998 legislation have been continued with each extension.

Basic funding levels have been among the main sticking points for the legislation. In particular, the allocation of Highway Trust Fund money has stalled the bill as states that contribute more to the fund than they receive have pushed for what they consider equity.

In addition to mainstream issues such as the trust fund, House and Senate negotiators on a conference committee have been trying to resolve a number of trucking-related measures. Those include:

  • A pilot program that would increase truck parking;
  • A unified registration system;
  • Tolling provisions;
  • Changes to regs that would address motor carriers that have a pattern of safety problems;
  • Outreach and training for state inspectors to help them deal with foreign commercial motor vehicles;
  • Possible changes in regs relating to diabetic commercial drivers; and
  • A mandatory fuel surcharge with 100 percent pass through to the person who actually buys the fuel.

OOIDA's government affairs staff on Capitol Hill said the word in the halls of Congress was that the final version of the Highway Bill would be hammered out and sent to President Bush by the first week of August.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Rep. Don Young, R-AK, said the two-day extension was an attempt to keep the heat on so that the issue could be resolved.

"We are dealing with a two-bodied monster here," Young told The Post, "and we have to work with the other side (the Senate) as much as we possibly can and salvage as much as we can. I underestimated the lack of foresight in the other body that does not understand the importance of this legislation."

However, the House and Senate generally agree the country needs to spend about $286 billion for highways, mass transit and safety programs during the 2004-2009 period, which the legislation covers.

- By Coral Beach, staff editor