The Senate yesterday passed a plan to extend the program to the end of the year and inject $19.5 billion of general revenues into the Highway Trust Fund to keep it solvent until next year.
The 68 - 29 vote on a jobs bill that includes the highway program ended the uncertainty that has plagued road financing since political infighting led to a funding cut-off and furloughs at the Department of Transportation earlier this month.
Until Congress passed this extension the program had been operating month-to-month since it came to the end of its six-year run last September. The hang-up earlier this month came when Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., objected to the funding approach proposed by the Democratic leadership in a jobs bill that included a 30-day extension of the program.
Despite opposition from the majority of both parties in the Senate, Bunning blocked the measure for several days, forcing the Department of Transportation to furlough about 2,000 employees and stop sending reimbursements to the states for federal-aid highway projects. After almost a week a deal was struck, funds started flowing again and DOT employees returned to work.
Now, with 10 months to work, Congress has an opportunity to consider a proper, long-term highway program. The degree of difficulty for passage of a multi-year program is exceptionally high, however, and it is possible that the current program will have to be extended under temporary authority into next year.
Reaction from the highway community was positive.
"We are delighted that the House and the Senate have reached final agreement on this significant piece of legislation," said John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials in a statement. "It's a win for the economy and a win for workers and the communities which will benefit from the transportation projects to be built across the country."
Look for more details in the next issue of HDT.