By David Bauer, senior vice president of government relations, ARTBA

House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) declared today (Nov. 18) the short-term extension of the federal highway and public transportation programs currently working its way through Congress would be the last such extension and laid out a schedule for enactment of a multi-year bill by Dec. 4.

Shuster’s comments came during the first—and potentially last—public meeting of the House-Senate “conference committee” charged with reconciling the House- and Senate-passed multi-year surface transportation reauthorization bills.   Conferees elected Shuster chairman of the conference committee and Senate Environment & Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) vice chairman—the chambers alternate the chairmanship of multi-year surface transportation bill conference committees.

According to Shuster’s plan, conferees would finalize the remaining major decisions this week before leaving town for the previously-scheduled week-long Thanksgiving recess.  Congressional staff would then spend next week drafting final legislation, which would be introduced once the two chamber’s reconvene Nov. 30.  This would leave the House and Senate five days to pass the compromise measure before the latest short-term extension expires Dec. 4.

Shuster’s confidence in laying out such an aggressive schedule reflects the reality that once a few big picture issues are resolved the similarities between the House and Senate proposals should make producing a final bill relatively straight forward.

Chief among the major decisions still to be made are the bill’s duration and total investment levels.  The House-passed measure proposes to increase highway and transit investment at slightly less than projected inflation levels over the next six years and provides enough new resources to allow the Highway Trust Fund to support those investments.  Senate Republicans and Democrats, however, are pushing to use the available resource to grow surface transportation investment beyond both projected inflation and construction material cost increases over five years.  The House and Senate have not identified enough new trust fund revenues to support a bill that grows investment for six years.

To assist the Senate effort, ARTBA is partnering with the American Public Transportation Association to launch a Capitol Hill advertising blitz that pushes for maximum highway and transit investment.  The ad emphasizes the failure of the House-proposed levels to maintain purchasing power and calls on conferees to produce surface transportation legislation “that maximizes the benefits it provides as opposed to the years it would last.”  See a copy of the ad.  The print ad is running throughout the week while this critical decision is being made.

While work has been going on throughout the week behind the scenes to resolve a number of technical policy differences between the bill, decisions relating to how to allocate funds among different priorities—such as freight, major projects, and TIFIA—cannot be made until conferees determine the total level of resources they have at their disposal.

We appreciate the many ARTBA state contractor affiliates and members that have been weighing in with members of their delegation serving on the conference committee to push for maximum investment levels in any multi-year bill.  Please keep up the great work as this issue still has not been resolved.  If you have not yet contacted your representative and senators, please use ARTBA’s digital platform to do so. It only takes a minute.

Stay tuned as the reauthorization process kicks into high gear over the next few weeks.