WASHINGTON—The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has unanimously approved a six-year transportation reauthorization bill that would fund transportation infrastructure projects at current levels.
Sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., S. 2322 was reported favorably out of committee, with amendments, on May 15.
S. 2322 preserves highway funding at $52 billion a year, with adjustments for inflation. That is the same amount authorized under the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), which President Obama signed into law in July 2012.
The bill maintains the core structure of MAP-21, including the National Highway Performance Program, the Highway Safety Improvement Program, the Surface Transportation Program and the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program.
“Each core formula program receives a proportionate increase in funding to support long-term state transportation investment plans,” said the summary of S. 2322 on the Environment and Public Works website.
Among many provisions, the bill would improve the transparency of how and where transportation projects are selected and funded. It also would establish a formula-based freight program to provide funds to all states to improve the movement of goods in key corridors, the summary said.
While the summary of S. 2322 says the bill provides new funds to projects of national and regional significance through a grant program, it does not specify where the grant money will come. According to most sources, the Highway Trust Fund will be depleted by August. Meanwhile, MAP-21 expires Sept. 30.
“I have always believed that Congress will move quickly on legislation like what has been introduced in the Senate, but it will not vote on taxes to fund the program until after the Nov. 4, 2014 elections,” wrote Roy Littlefield, executive vice president of the Tire Industry Association, in the May 19 issue of the TIA Weekly Legislative Update.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has said the Obama administration does not favor an increase in the gasoline tax, according to Littlefield. The administration would rather see transportation projects funded by business tax reform or some other source.
TIA opposes a gas tax increase, whereas the American Trucking Associations supports it. However, the ATA has outlined a number of funding mechanisms it would support instead of a gas tax increase.
The options the ATA favors include indexing the gas tax according to price, the Consumer Price Index or the estimated impact of improved fuel efficiency. The association would support a per-barrel tax on imported oil or domestic crude production; a new “highway access fee” for all motorists; and funding through the proceeds from repatriating foreign capital.