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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Senate committee holds hearing on MAP-21 reauthorization

The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) held a hearing yesterday on reauthorization of the surface transportation law known as MAP-21 and the economic impact of maintaining federal investments in the nation's transportation infrastructure, including the Highway Trust Fund's solvency. MAP-21 is scheduled to expire on Sept. 30.

"It is critical for our nation to continue investing in our aging infrastructure. Therefore, preserving the Highway Trust Fund needs to be our number one priority in this committee, in other committees, and in the Senate and the House," said U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), EPW's chairman, in her opening statement.

Witnesses testifying yesterday included Thomas Donohue, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Mike Hancock, president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).

Donohue urged the Senate to identify ways to maintain and increase transportation infrastructure investment.

"The chamber believes that Congress should maintain a user-fee based Highway Trust Fund to support a strong federal role and enable multi-year funding commitments by the federal government to states and metropolitan planning organizations," he said in a prepared statement. "Raising user fees to cover the [trust fund's] shortfall and allow for increased investment should not be dismissed."

AASHTO's Hancock said the impending insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund poses a threat to state budgets, the construction industry and overall economy.

The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that the Highway Trust Fund, which is funded by the federal gas tax, is facing a $77 billion deficit through 2019. In January, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that the fund's Highway Account is likely to run out of money in August.

"We could face serious economic disruptions as early as this summer if USDOT delays reimbursements to the states for projects already completed," said Hancock in a prepared statement. "Unless Congress acts to either increase Highway Trust Fund revenues or provide additional General Fund support, the states will be unable to obligate virtually any new federal funds starting in fiscal-year 2015."

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More News from 2/13/2014