Truckers and other highway users are applauding the U.S. House of Representatives for approving a bill that would send $8 billion to the Highway Trust Fund.
The intent of HR6532, approved on a 387-37 vote in the House on Wednesday, July 23, is to return $8 billion to the Trust Fund that was appropriated out of the fund in 1998 for other purposes, according to a press release from Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.
“This is not the time to reduce our pathetic investment in infrastructure,” DeFazio’s release stated.
“There are 150,000 structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges on our roads today, trucks are being rerouted because of weight restrictions, and people are wasting hours and high priced gas idling in traffic.”
Officials with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said the House vote sends a strong message about the importance of the Highway Trust Fund and the nation’s infrastructure.
“Bottom line, this is a good way to spend federal dollars,” OOIDA Senior Government Affairs Representative Mike Joyce told Land Line.
Joyce said in order for HR6532 to become law, the Senate needs to approve it and the president must sign it.
White House officials said Wednesday that President Bush would likely veto the Trust Fund legislation if it makes it to his desk.
“The administration put forth a responsible alternative that would address any shortfall without increasing net spending or drawing on the general treasury,” White House staff said in a press statement.
The administration’s alternative involves borrowing from the Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund, which some officials say has a surplus.
Joyce said the Senate is on a tight schedule before recessing in August.
With the overwhelming passage in the House, a large margin in the Senate could mean that the bill is veto-proof, Joyce said.
“It’s a matter of whether the president wants to play games with it,” he said, adding that a two-thirds majority can overturn a presidential veto.
Other groups with a stake in the nation’s infrastructure reacted to the House vote on Wednesday, including the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
“We appreciate the strong support being shown by members of both the House and Senate to solve this critical problem, and keep America’s transportation projects moving forward,” AASHTO Executive Director John Horsley stated in a press release.
Joyce said that while 37 representatives voted against HR6532, the bill had bipartisan appeal in the House.
“In the long term, Congress must address this problem when we reauthorize the current highway bill,” said Rep. John Mica, R-FL, the ranking Republican member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“In the short term, however, our only option is to pass this legislation and make sure the Highway Trust Fund remains sound and we avoid a transportation crisis.”
House T&I Committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-MN, weighed in to say increasing fuel prices are part of the problem because they translate to fewer highway miles traveled by the American public.
“This unexpected and severe decline in revenues makes it even more critical that we take decisive action now to ensure the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund,” Oberstar said.
– By David Tanner, staff writer