Chris on the Hill: Highway Reauthorization – Is there any hope?

By Chris Burroughs, Vice President of Government Affairs

Congress has a little over a year to pass a surface transportation reauthorization bill because the FAST Act or the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act” expires on September 30, 2020. You might be saying to yourself, there is no way Congress cannot meet that deadline… right? The 1959 classic film Ben-Hur directed by William Wyler which came in at a running time of 212 minutes was filmed in 8-months, so why can’t Congress put together a surface transportation bill in a little over a year? Because unlike the crew of Ben-Hur, most of the Congress lacks the passion and desire to pass this important piece of legislation to address our nation’s crumbling infrastructure and highway projects.

Republicans have struggled in years past to find a viable funding solution that consists of real money dedicated to fixing the problem without resorting to “increasing taxes.” Democrats are struggling with ancillary projects outside the realm of “normal” surface transportation priorities including climate change and quite frankly they do not want to give President Trump a “victory” before the 2020 Presidential Election, which happens in each election cycle, no matter who is the sitting President.

On July 29, 2019, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) approved through the committee with bipartisan support the, “America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019.” This bill is the largest amount of funding provided for highway reauthorization in legislative history, by authorizing $287 billion from the Highway Trust Fund over five years to invest in our nation’s infrastructure projects and keep the economy moving. This equates to a 27% increase above the FAST Act amounts.

Specifically, the bill would:

  1. Create funds for our highways and grow our economy;
  2. Enhance and improve road and bridge safety;
  3. Eliminate red tape;
  4. Deliver projects cheaper and faster;
  5. Reinvest in tribal and federal lands; and
  6. Improve resiliency, protects the environment and reduces pollution emissions.

Where is the money coming from to pay for all these initiatives? That is the question of the ages and we currently do not know. The Senate EPW Committee is one of four Senate Committees that has jurisdiction over the surface transportation bill. The other Committees include, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee (highway safety), the Senate Banking Committee (transit) and the Senate Finance Committee (funding). I give the Senate EPW Committee credit for taking the lead on trying to move this forward especially in a bipartisan way, but we are only 25% there. I have heard from Senate staffers that there is no real desire to move this before the Presidential election. That is unfortunate and hopefully not true.

We have not seen anything yet from the other side of the Capitol on the House side. Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) has been a champion for transportation policy for over 30 years as a Member of the House of Representatives and I know he would like nothing more than to find a permanent solution to address the highway trust fund, but he has forces working against him as I previously stated. But, if there is anyone to get this done, the House Transportation Committee has the right man behind the wheel (no pun intended), but he needs President Trump to be a leader on this issue, which I think he can be.

I remain an optimist in situations like this and I still think there is a chance to get something done before we get too close to the Presidential election of 2020, but time is truly running out. In talking with House and Senate staffers about this issue, many have seen the ship already set sail. They have resigned to the fact that another extension is likely next step. I think if we see some movement in the next three months, we got a chance! Our future depends on it.

If you have any questions or want to learn more about TIA’s Advocacy efforts, please contact Chris Burroughs (burroughs@tianet.org). Learn more about TIA’s impact on Capitol Hill and how it influences your business. 

 

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