With the House and Senate going to conference on a Water Resources Development bill, the way is clear for transportation committees in both chambers to take up reauthorization of the federal highway program.
The program must be reauthorized by October 2014, and there’s much work to be done.
Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, recently said his goal is to complete a draft highway bill by next spring or summer.
He wants this to be a bipartisan effort, like the Water Resources Development Act, he said in remarks to a gathering of transportation interests sponsored by the American Highway Users Alliance and Volvo Group.
WRDA, whose final details are being negotiated by conferees from the House and Senate, cleared the House by 417-3 and the Senate by 83-14. The bill is seen as an example of how Congress can get some things done despite the divisive political atmosphere in Washington.
It will be more difficult to find common ground on funding for the highway bill, however.
The Highway Trust Fund will run dry by 2015 unless Congress either severely limits reinvestment in infrastructure or increases revenues into the Fund.
It’s a problem Congress kicked down the road when it wrote the 2012 bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century. The funding for that bill was cobbled together from a number of one-time sources and there is strong consensus among highway users and some legislators that the next bill has to include adequate long-term funding.
Shuster acknowledged the challenge.
“We will not ignore the funding issue, but I think it’s important that we need to build the case,” he said. “We need to make sure that the American people know there’s a problem.”
He urged his audience to take part in getting that message out to the public, but warned that the message should not lead with need for more revenue.
“If we lead talking about funding, I think that diminishes the case,” he said. “I encourage you all not to lead with funding, but lead with examples. Explain the problem to the American people and it will happen, I believe.”