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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Congress passes bill to keep Highway Trust Fund afloat


The U.S. Senate yesterday passed the House's version of a $10.9 billion bill to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent through May 2015. H.R. 5021 now goes to President Obama for his signature.

The Senate's action followed the House's rejection of a Senate-amended version of the bill, which would have kept the fund afloat until only mid-December, with the expectation that a then lame-duck Congress would take up a longer-term surface transportation funding measure.

"I am disappointed that House Republicans instead chose to kick the can down the road into next year. This marks the 12th time in five years that Congress has resorted to short-term patches for transportation funding," said U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) — who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure — in a prepared statement.

But had the Senate not passed the bill, the U.S. Department of Transportation on Aug. 1 would have begun delaying federal transportation payments to states for projects under way.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx yesterday announced plans to convene a nationwide virtual "town hall" in August to bring together business leaders, transportation advocates, and state and local government officials to discuss the future of transportation.

"Americans deserve a multi-year tranpsortation bill that provides the certainty that businesses and communities deserve, creates jobs and makes necessary policy updates to lay the foundation for lasting economic growth," he said in a prepared statement.

While overall pleased that Congress acted to extend the funding for the short term, a number of business and transportation representatives expressed concerns about the long-term future of the nation's transportation infrastructure.

"At a time when America's crumbling roads and bridges are causing constant travel delays and headaches, these short-term fixes are just plain short-sighted," said former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who co-chairs Building America's Future. "The strength of our nation’s economy rests on Congress finding a long-term solution so we can repair and modernize our roads, rails and bridges for the long haul."

More than 660,000 jobs and at least 6,000 state transportation projects were at risk had Congress not acted, said Bud Wright, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

"State department of transportation officials across the country are today relieved that the Highway Trust Fund will continue to support critically needed highway and transit projects through May, 2015," he said. "But while this short-term patch is an important step, Congress must keep America working and the economy moving forward by passing a long-term surface transportation reauthorization bill that is supported by a sustainable source of funding as soon as possible.“

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) also called on Congress to develop a  long-term solution to surface transportation funding.

"Infrastructure is essential to a strong manufacturing sector, and the NAM will continue to work with Congress and the Obama administration to ensure that it is a national priority," said NAM Senior Vice President of Policy and Government Relations Aric Newhouse.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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