Highway bill emerges from marathon committee hearing

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | Friday, February 03, 2012

Following 17 hours of debate and the consideration of 91 amendments, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed its version of a multiyear surface transportation bill in the wee hours of Friday morning, Feb. 3. The bill would fund five years of surface transportation at $260 billion including funds tied to domestic energy production.

As previously reported, lawmakers struck down a provision that would have increased truck weights to 97,000 pounds on interstate highways and permitted states to allow longer combination vehicles.

Opening remarks by lawmakers set the tone for partisan debates on a number of the amendments offered.

Republican leadership declared that the process to date has been transparent and bipartisan, but committee Democrats claimed they had been shut out of the process and did not receive copies of the 820-page bill until just before the hearing.

OOIDA is tracking a number of provisions in the base bill, HR7, and its amendments.

The base bill includes provisions that would raise the bond for brokers and freight forwarders from $10,000 to $100,000; call for a study on cab crashworthiness; establish training standards for commercial vehicle drivers; and call for further study of hours of service.

Additionally, HR7 includes guidelines and standards for electronic on-board recorders; a requirement for states to consider public-private partnerships for infrastructure projects; and programs that could lead to the construction of tolled lanes and toll roads.

One Republican amendment nixed California’s high-speed rail program. Another would strengthen current “buy American” provision to close loopholes in current law. The bill also consolidates and eliminates a number of U.S. DOT programs, including some tied to environmental oversight on projects.

Republicans and Democrats continued to debate the bill until 3 a.m. Eastern on Friday morning. Finally, by a vote of 29 in favor, 24 opposed, the bill emerged. Following a quick stop at the Ways and Means Committee, the bill passed at the committee level and is now headed to the House floor.

Floor debates could begin as soon as the week of Feb. 13.

Two Senate committees have approved portions of their surface transportation legislation as well. Before a final bill emerges and can become law, the House and Senate must agree on final language.

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