Congress reaches deal on 5-year transportation bill
WASHINGTON — The House and Senate have reached agreement on a 5-year, $281 billion transportation bill that would increase spending to address the nation’s aging and congested highways and transit systems — a legislative feat that lawmakers and President Barack Obama have struggled throughout his entire administration to achieve.
The bill would also put an end to the cycle of temporary extensions and threatened shutdowns of transportation programs that have bedeviled Congress for the past seven years, making it difficult for states to plan long-term projects.
A draft the bill, which was expected to be filed by congressional negotiators Tuesday afternoon, boosts highway spending by 14.9 percent and transit spending by 18.1 percent over the life of the bill, said Jeff Davis, an expert on transportation spending with the nonprofit Eno Center for Transportation. The Congressional Budget Office isn’t expected to provide official figures until later this week.
But the bill still falls far short of the $400 billion over six years that Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has said is necessary to keep traffic congestion from worsening, and it puts off the difficult decision of how to pay for transportation programs in a way that’s sustainable for the long term. The federal 18.4 cents a gallon gas tax, the main source of Highway Trust Fund revenues, hasn’t been increased since 1993 and no longer is enough to cover annual spending on transportation programs.
The House and Senate must still vote on the final bill. Passage is expected by Friday, when authority for the government to process aid payments to states expires.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association expressed gratitude that the U.S. Congress was able to reach an agreement on a final highway bill.
“We greatly appreciate the efforts of lawmakers to recognize the value of owner-operators, small businesses and professional truckers and what they mean to the economy and to highway safety,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA’s executive vice president.
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