The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously approved its bill to reauthorize the federal highway program.

 The bill proposes a 6-year program that builds on reforms already in place and calls for continuation of current funding levels plus an adjustment for inflation.

“Today’s passage sends a powerful signal to our colleagues and to our nation that we are serious about addressing the looming funding crisis in the Highway Trust Fund,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairman of the committee.

“I am proud of this strong, bipartisan bill that helps provide the certainty that all of our states and cities need to move forward with critical infrastructure and transportation projects.”

Photo: Evan Lockridge

Photo: Evan Lockridge

Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, the ranking Republican on the committee, said, “Our nation's infrastructure needs attention and updates. Today’s vote in the EPW Committee is a testament to the overwhelming bipartisan support of this urgently needed legislation.”

The committee’s action came in the midst of Infrastructure Week, a concerted effort by transportation interests of all types to raise public awareness of the need to reinvest in roads and bridges.

President Obama was on-message Wednesday in remarks at the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River in New York.

The bridge is worn out and is being replaced ahead of schedule, but other projects around the country will suffer unless Congress acts to replenish the Highway Trust Fund, Obama said.

“If they don’t act by the end of the summer, federal funding for transportation projects will run out – will run out,” he said.  “There will be no money.  The cupboard will be bare.  And all told, nearly 700,000 jobs would be at risk over the next year.”

He said that states already are starting to slow down work because they’re worried Congress won’t resolve the problem before the Fund runs into the red next August.

His solution – a one-time infusion to the Fund from corporate tax reform – is contained in the administration’s highway reauthorization proposal, the $302 billion, 4-year GROW America Act.

The Senate’s funding solution is a work in progress. Boxer said the Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over funding, is considering an array of options. Among them are raising and indexing the per-gallon fuel tax to inflation, or replacing that tax with a wholesale sales tax on fuel, as well as the corporate tax reform proposals offered by the administration and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich.

Also still to come in the process of crafting a final Senate bill are proposals by the Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over truck safety among other concerns, and the Banking Committee, which handles transit.