On Friday, June 29, both the House and Senate approved legislation that included an extension of the federal surface transportation reauthorization bill. The legislation provides for an estimated $105 billion in federal funding for highway, transit, safety, and related transportation programs through the end of September 2014.
A somewhat unusual bi-partisan compromise between Democrats and Republicans lead to passage of the extension. In the bargaining that led up to the vote, House Republicans compromised on their demands that the bill require approval of the contentious Keystone XL oil pipeline and to block federal regulation of toxic waste generated by coal-fired power plants. Democrats, for their part, backed off environmental protections and biking, pedestrian, and safety programs.
The bill authorizes the expenditure of $100 million on federal highway programs over two years;, but it puts off the decision on how to pay for them after that. One problem is that federal gasoline and diesel taxes are no longer adequate to pay for current spending on highway and transit programs. Two commissions and an array of private sector experts have suggested that the U.S. should be spending about twice as much or more on its transportation infrastructure as it now spending.
The construction economy, especially the infrastructure, heavy highway, and bridge components, are expected to benefit from the passage of this legislation. Pennsylvania’s roads, bridges and highways will receive a $3.2 billion infusion, according to Senator Robert Casey’s office. The legislation includes language giving states more flexibility on how to spend money on bridge infrastructure and will permit the maintenance and repair of bridges currently being maintained by counties. Other provisions also provide more flexibility to states when they use federal transportation resources.