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Senate Committee Will 'DRIVE' Transportation Reauthorization

The Senate's DRIVE Act is shaping up to be the first six-year transportation reauthorization bill since 2009. Notwithstanding the acronym, it's not all that bad, writes Tanya Snyder of Streetsblog USA. Finding funding for it is another story.
June 25, 2015, 7am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"With just over a month left before transportation programs are set to expire, the Senate has a bill on the table that would set state spending levels for roads and bridges all the way out to 2021," writes Jason Plautz, energy and environment correspondent for National Journal.

The "Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act," or DRIVE Act, is scheduled to be marked up Wednesday (June 24), and with support from Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe and ranking member Barbara Boxer, is expected to pass easily.

Inhofe and Boxer issued a press release after the bill received unanimous support.

The 269-page, yet-to-be numbered DRIVE Act [PDF] is not to be confused with the House's DRIVE Act, H.R. 1461 by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky) that would eliminate the Mass Transit Account from the Highway Trust Fund. It stands for "Developing Roadway Infrastructure for a Vibrant Economy Act and was posted here earlier.

The Senate's DRIVE Act is not only good by comparison (which doesn't say much), but has good parts on its own, writes Snyder.

What the bill does, mainly, is continue existing policies related to streets and highways — meaning it’s not the nightmare you might have expected under the chairmanship of climate denying Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe. When you look closely, the DRIVE Act actually makes some improvements at the margins.

For example, "(t)he bill explicitly sanctions the use of the NACTO street design guide along with the old FHWA and AASHTO engineering manuals," writes Snyder, and makes slight improvements in terms of complete streets and local control for the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP).

In addition, the bill increases funding over current levels, "setting levels at about 3 percent more per year than previous levels, for a total funding level of between $260 and $270 billion over six years," writes Plautz.

But it's all rhetoric without a financing plan to pad the depleted Highway Trust Fund. That plan would have to come from the Finance Committee, and there, lawmakers are far apart.

The chair of that committee, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), admitted that finding funds for six years might be too difficult. "I'm just hoping for multi-years...We've got to find the funding one way or the other, and if we can't find it for a six-year bill, then clearly we've got to reduce" the bill," he said.

A year ago, then EPW Chair Boxer introduced a six-year, MAP-21 Reauthorization bill as a six-year transportation reauthorization bill. Funding was found for only a short-term extension, which has since been extended. The current extension expires July 31.

The last, long-term transportation reauthorization bill was the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), signed into law on August 10, 2005, by President George W. Bush.

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Published on Tuesday, June 23, 2015 in National Journal
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