Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who has a blueprint for reform of the federal highway program, has been pushing the Ways and Means Committee to come up with funding for his ambitious $500 billion six-year vision.
The White House and the Senate were pushing for an 18-month extension. Oberstar initially opposed any extension, but with the Sept. 30 expiration of the current highway program looming, said he would accept a three-month extension. And in fact Oberstar was the sponsor of the bill the House passed Wednesday night, The Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2009 (H.R. 3617).
There are many concerns driving the debate over timing. Too long an extension means that states might have to stop construction contracts and lose the impetus they got from this year's stimulus bill. In addition, 18 months pushes the issue to March of 2011, which would give Congress just a couple of months of a new congressional session to complete work on a large, complex bill - not an optimistic scenario.
In the debate on the bill, Republican leaders wanted a "public rejection" of a fuel tax hike to pay for future highway programs. Yet most observers agree a fuel tax increase will be needed to pay for much-needed infrastructure upgrades.
Read more about the infrastructure debate and an unprecedented number of other issues affecting the trucking industry on Capitol Hill in the October issue of Heavy Duty Trucking magazine in our 2010 Outlook.