Spending money is not very popular in Congress these days. As a result, finding the political will to increase investment in the nation’s aging infrastructure is a recurring struggle. In recent years, Congress has consistently failed to pass long term funding for transportation projects, hampering states’ ability to plan. However, this Tuesday, a bipartisan agreement in Congress gives hope to the passage of a $305 billion highway bill. The architects of the deal hailed it as something that would provide “long-term certainty for states and local governments” in addition to “improvements to the programs that sustain our roads bridges and passenger rail system.” According to the NPR, the legislation would “free up highway bottlenecks, increase the number of buses and ferries, enhance high-tech information sharing to reduce congestion, and fill a lot of potholes.”
While the measure would fall far short of the $478 billion President Obama proposed earlier this year, the administration promised that the President would sign it as fast as possible if passed so as to insure there is no stoppage in funds. Current funding measures expire on December 4th. The President has long argued for more long term transportation spending, but Congress has failed to pass legislation lasting longer than two years since 2005.
In addition to focusing on the transportation of people, the bill also includes measures for $10.6 billion in spending to open “freight corridors,” something typically not seen in this kind of legislation. The bill would also renew the Export-Import Bank, separate Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor operations from the rest of its budget, and increase the amount regulators can fine automakers for malfeasance from $35 million to $105 million.
Critics point out that the proposed legislation still wouldn’t identify a long term solution for the Highway Trust Fund, typically funded by gas tax revenue. Despite a shortfall in such revenue from lower oil prices and a shift to more fuel-efficient vehicles, the bill declines to raise the gas tax or identify another form of revenue to support the Fund.
- Bipartisan Talks Yield $300 Billion Highway Bill – The New York Times
- WH: Obama Will Sign $305B highway bill – The Hill
- In The Highway Bill, Some Find Road To Riches, Others Hit A Pothole – NPR
- Lawmakers Reach Compromise on Five-Year Highway Bill – The Wall Street Journal