The draft proposal, called the Transportation Opportunities Act, is being billed as a trial balloon for ideas that the administration would like to see included in a reauthorization bill that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said should be on President Obama's desk by August.
Besides a pilot test for the new funding mechanism, the bill proposes new tolling options, ways to speed up the delivery of infrastructure projects, program reforms at the Department of Transportation, creation of a National Infrastructure Innovation and Finance Fund, and creation of an Office of Freight Policy at DOT.
Congress has to do a lot of work quickly to meet LaHood's August deadline. None of the committees that share responsibility for transportation policy and funding have produced concrete language yet.
The key committee in the House, Transportation & Infrastructure, is working on a measure that Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., intends to mark up before Memorial Day, said spokesman Justin Harclerode.
On the Senate side, the Environment & Public Works Committee is working on language but has not yet released specifics, said Mary Phillips, senior vice president of legislative affairs at American Trucking Associations. She also said the Senate Commerce Committee has drafted a safety title for the bill but those details are not yet available, either.
The fate of the measure may hinge on the budget debate. The House has approved a 2012 budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., that would cut transportation funding by 30 percent.
The numbers in that budget clarified what will happen if the highway program is to be funded on incoming receipts, Phillips said. "It has to be much smaller. It was rather sobering."
Salvos over safety
Meanwhile, yesterday the Truck Safety Coalition and ATA traded salvos over the issue of truck safety, voicing its opposition to the possibility that the highway bill could change truck sizes and weights.
The coalition, which includes Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways and Parents Against Tired Truckers, announced its support for a proposal, the Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation Act, that would keep current size and weight limits. The Teamsters union also supports the measure.
The coalition also released the results of a survey it commissioned that found strong opposition to heavier trucks, and support for reducing daily driving time to 10 hours.
ATA President Bill Graves countered that trucking's safety performance is the best it has ever been, in part because of the current hours of service rule. "The fact is, while operating under the current hours-of-service rule, trucking has been involved in far fewer fatal and injury crashes, and it has improved its fatality and injury crash rates by 34 and 39 percent respectively," he said in a statement.