New House Transportation Reauthorization Bill Expected for Mark Up This Week

The current patch bill funding highway and transit spending expires on Oct. 29. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has released a multi-year bill called the Surface Transportation Reauthorization & Reform Act of 2015 (STRR Act).
October 19, 2015, 6am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"The House is planning to mark up a long-term transportation funding bill on Oct. 22, just days before the scheduled expiration of the nation's infrastructure spending," writes Keith Laing for The Hill. "The panel's chairman, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), said the hearing will give lawmakers a chance to weigh on a multi-year extension of the transportation funding measure."

The current extension expires on Oct. 29, though a post last month indicated that highway and transit funding may last through June. However, a bill is needed to reauthorize the Highway Transportation Fund regardless of current funding levels.

The House bill is called the "The Surface Transportation Reauthorization & Reform Act of 2015 (STRR Act)," a 14-page document released on Oct. 14. It doesn't indicate the time period it covers, other than being called a "multi-year" bill, and doesn't indicate funding levels.

The bill "(c)onverts the Surface Transportation Program (STP) to a block grant program;" rolls the Transportation Alternatives Program (e.g., biking and walking projects into STP, "allowing 50 percent of transportation alternatives funding in urbanized areas to be used on any STP-eligible project; (i)ncreases funding for railway-highway grade crossings, and (b)ans the use of funding for automated traffic enforcement systems."

Under the "Reform" section, the bill "(s)treamlines the environmental review and permitting process to cut red tape and accelerate project delivery."

  • Eliminates duplicative regulatory processes by creating a pilot program to empower states to use their own existing environmental laws and regulations instead of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), if substantially 

The funding level needs to be greater than current spending, argues Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) in a press release.

According to data from the Congressional Budget Office, a new six-year bill starting in 2016 would authorize $328 billion at baseline levels.  To start making a dent in our infrastructure deficit, we should be investing ten to twenty percent more, meaning a six-year bill would cost between $360 billion and $400 billion.

Laing writes that "(t)he Department of Transportation has warned that it will have to begin cutting back on payments to states and local governments for infrastructure projects in November if Congress does not reach an agreement on a highway bill extension this month."

The Senate has already passed the six-year DRIVE Act, though it is funded for only three years.

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Published on Wednesday, October 14, 2015 in The Hill
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