Leaders begin to push for a new highway bill

| 1/26/2005

Congressional leaders, state officials and other players in transportation are lining up for a new effort to pass a six-year highway bill.

In a statement on his official Web site, Sen. Kit Bond, R-MO, recently listed passing a highway bill as one of his highest priorities. Bond is chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, which is responsible to the bill in the Senate.

Bond had pushed for a higher funding level, and the Senate last year approved a $318 billion bill. However, the White House consistently pushed for a bill that would not exceed $256 billion.

A former Missouri governor, Bond told The Kansas City Star that passing the bill was vital to the U.S. economy.

“If you don’t have the funding,” Bond told the newspaper, “You can’t build the roads we need and provide economic growth for the future.”

Bond isn’t the only national leader who has renewed the push for a new highway bill. Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-IL, the speaker of the House, has also stressed the importance of passing the bill as quickly as possible.

“Our roads, bridges and ports not only move people, they also move products – the products we make at home to sell abroad,” Hastert said in a news release issued by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. “To keep our products moving, we must finish work on the transportation bill early this year.”

Todd Spencer, executive vice president of OOIDA, said that an entirely new highway bill would give members of the association another chance to address key trucking industry concerns.

In particular, he said that the shortage of rest areas and parking places for trucks as well as the push by some to add tolls to existing interstate highways are topics that everyone should be talking about to their lawmakers.

“And hopefully this will give us another opportunity to get lawmakers to spend more of highway trust funds on actual highway projects,” Spencer said.

But getting a bill passed won’t be a walk in the park.

According to AASHTO, Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta warned recently that the president might not accept higher spending levels for roads. He made the statement during a speech at the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Traditionally, Congress passes a new highway bill every six years. The last highway bill expired in September of 2003. Since then, Congress has passed a series of stopgap measures to keep continuing funding moving to the states so highway programs don’t shut down. But state officials have stressed that they need a full six-year measure to properly plan their highway work.

While many provisions have been points of contention, the chief barrier to smooth passage is the disagreement among the House, Senate and White House over how much money the bill should include.

Another controversial part of last year’s proposed highway bill was a Senate measure that would potentially allow tolls to be added to existing interstate highways. OOIDA strongly opposed the measure, and led an effort that helped remove a similar provision from the House bill.