In remarks at a transportation meeting in Washington, D.C., last week, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) announced that the House would not move on a long-term surface transportation bill before the end of the year. Mica cited the lack of time on the House calendar as the reason for the delay after House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had promised to pass a transportation bill before the end of the year. The current short-term extension of federal transportation programs expires in March 2012.
It is highly improbable that Congress will reach an agreement by that time, and thus it will likely be forced to enact a ninth extension of federal transportation programs since the current program, known as SAFETEA-LU, expired in September 2009.
Although one Senate committee has acted on a bill, several additional committees have to act and the Senate has taken a radically different approach than the House to reauthorizing the program funding federal highway, transit and bridge programs.
Last July, Mica and House transportation committee Republicans introduced a six-year transportation bill that would have cut transportation programs by more than 30 percent to reflect decreasing transportation revenues, reduced the number of individual programs and given more flexibility to the states in making transportation decisions. In recent weeks, House Republicans have suggested that opening up new lands to oil drilling would provide new revenues to fully fund a six-year transportation program, although no legislation has been introduced.
Last month, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee adopted a bipartisan two-year bill, which would keep transportation funding at current levels. The bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, MAP-21, was adopted unanimously on November 9.
The legislation would keep programs at current funding levels of $85 billion per year for two years. The bill would eliminate earmarks and speed project delivery by streamlining regulatory processes. MAP-21 would greatly expand the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Program from the current $25 million to $1 billion and make the program easier to access for rural communities.
Important to local governments are proposed thresholds for remaining a metropolitan planning organization. MAP-21 would set a new MPO threshold of 200,000 in population, impacting 230 of the nation’s current 382 MPOs.
The bill adopted by the Senate Committee would also negatively impact the role of rural local officials in working with the state. NLC is working together with other organizations to oppose the changes to the bill adopted during the committee markup. Senate jurisdiction over transportation programs is divided among several committees. The Senate Banking Committee, which has jurisdiction over the transit portion of the program, is expected to act early this month before Congress leaves for the holiday recess.