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Groups representing nearly every aspect of the country’s infrastructure networks recently called on congressional leaders to approve a yearlong extension of a soon-to-expire highway law.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, and the American Society of Civil Engineers were among dozens of stakeholders pressing for an authorizing extension of the five-year 2015 FAST Act, which expires Sept. 30.
In addition to the extension, the groups asked the leadership on Capitol Hill to approve more than $30 billion in emergency funding for both state departments of transportation and public transit agencies, as well as guarantee the solvency of a federal highway funding account during the extension. The account, known as the Highway Trust Fund, relies on dwindling revenue from fuel taxes.
“State and local entities already delayed or canceled $8 billion in surface transportation projects, with more on the horizon absent any clear sign of support from the federal government,” the groups, which included the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, the National Safety Council, and the League of American Bicyclists, wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Sept. 9.
The groups added, “Failure to approve a one-year extension with increased funding for the purpose of stability would only exacerbate this dire situation. Passing legislation that includes the aforementioned priorities would enable critical improvements that increase the safety and efficiency of the surface transportation system.”
If Congress is unable to advance a multiyear update of the FAST Act by Sept. 30, alternatives besides inaction would be to either pass a temporary extension of the law or include such an extension in must-pass federal funding legislation. Federal funding authority via appropriations also expires Sept. 30.
Key transportation policymakers, scrambling to avoid interruptions to freight and commuter systems, as well as avert a government shutdown, are endorsing the possibility of a yearlong extension. For instance, Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), ranking member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, insists states, infrastructure stakeholders, and the transportation industry’s workforce require stability and certainty an extension of the FAST Act would bring.
“This will be critical to states’ planning, next year’s construction season, and jobs,” a congressional aide told Transport Topics on Sept. 9.
To be sure, Congress is attempting to update the FAST Act. Over the summer, the House gave partisan approval to a massive infrastructure bill that included an update of the 2015 highway law. Last year, a Senate committee gave bipartisan backing to a five-year, $287 billion update of the FAST Act. Neither party has announced negotiations to reconcile differences in the bills. Both measures stopped short of proposing a long-term fix for the Highway Trust Fund. The fund, projected to run low in the months ahead, is backed by insufficient revenue from the 24.4 cents-per-gallon diesel tax and 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax. Those rates were set in 1993.
What are fleets doing to help attract the best possible diesel technicians to join the changing workforce environment? Host Michael Freeze speaks with Ken Boyer, dean of the Auto/Diesel Institute at Baker College, and Ralph Romero, vice president of talent management at U.S. Xpress. Hear a snippet, above, and get the full program by going to RoadSigns.TTNews.com.
The White House, meanwhile, has not unveiled a highway policy proposal this year. During the State of the Union, President Donald Trump called on Congress to approve the Senate committee’s highway bill.
House funding leaders led the passage of most of the chamber’s appropriations bills. The Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to schedule votes on its fiscal 2021 funding docket. Without Senate action, a likely scenario on Capitol Hill appears to be approving a temporary funding measure that would avert a partial shutdown of federal agencies. The stopgap fiscal funding bill would need to reach the president’s desk for enactment by Sept. 30.
In a fiscal 2021 funding bill the House approved, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration would receive $881 million for its operations. The proposed allocation would be a $202 million increase from the fiscal 2020-enacted level, and $179 million more than the president’s request.
“This funding is necessary for our future prosperity, especially as we transition from pandemic to recovery,” said Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), chairman of the Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, about the fiscal 2021 transportation funding package.
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