The Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee today unanimously approved a six-year, $260 billion reauthorization of the federal highway programs. Members of the committee from both parties acknowledged that today’s action was just the first step in this process. Authorizing legislation for the public transportation and safety programs must also be produced from other Senate committees. A more glaring issue, however, is the additional $100 billion in additional Highway Trust Fund Revenue the Senate Finance Committee would need to produce to support the EPW proposal to lock in current investment levels, adjusted for inflation, for the next six years.
EPW Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) noted, “Today’s passage sends a powerful signal to our colleagues and our nation that we are serious about addressing the looming funding crisis in the Highway Trust Fund.”
An ARTBA developed summary of the “MAP-21 Reauthorization Act,” S. 2322, is available here. Several significant amendments were approved today, however, that are worth noting:
- Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) included an amendment that would return the highway research programs to being funded out of the Highway Trust Fund—the original Senate proposal would have shifted these programs to the federal General Fund. To accomplish this goal, Inhofe reduced the bill’s total research funding from $400 million a year to $250 million (funding for the Research & Development, Technology and Innovation Development, Training and Education, and Intelligent Transportation System Programs were roughly cut in half). To accommodate this additional $250 million a year in trust fund spending, the Inhofe Amendment cut $250 million a year from the bill’s allocation to the TIFIA credit assistance program, bringing annual TIFIA investment down to $750 million.
- Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) included a proposal intended to preserve the Highway Trust Fund’s solvency. Under the Sessions Amendment, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation would be required to cut annual federal highway investment if it is determined such an amount would result in the balance of the Highway Account dipping below $2 billion in the current fiscal year or $1 billion in the following fiscal year. The secretary would be required to determine the necessary reduction amount to keep the account’s balance above those thresholds.
- Senator Inhofe included a separate amendment that would add “alternative design/alternative bid” to a list of activities eligible for 100 percent federal funding. In an attempt to promote innovation in project delivery, current law incentivizes states to undertake a number of non-traditional procurement and engineering approaches by waiving the customary state match for federal-aid highway projects. Under the Inhofe Amendment, alternative design and alternative bid would join those procedures.
Given the reliance on other Senate committees for other necessary pieces of a surface transportation reauthorization bill, it is unclear when or if the EPW proposal will advance. The bipartisan leaders of the Senate Finance Committee have signaled they intend to act on legislation to stabilize the Highway Trust Fund later this summer.