UPDATED 2:45 pm June 28, 2012
Congressional conference-committee members have tentatively agreed on a two-year bill to overhaul federal highway programs that drops a controversial requirement for government approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The deal struck Wednesday (June 27) would reduce the average time it takes to complete a highway project from 15 years to about eight years. Another GOP provision blocking federal regulation of coal ash was also dropped.
The text of the 27-month bill released by the conference committee indicates that it would retain current funding levels, plus a slight increase for inflation. It calls for a $6.2 billion transfer from the U.S. Treasury's general fund to the Highway Trust Fund account in fiscal 2013, another $10.4 billion infusion in fiscal 2014 and a $2.2 billion transfer into the fund's transit account.
Senate compromises included:
- Agreeing to make "transportation enhancements" such as bike paths and pedestrian safety projects compete with other transportation programs for the same pool of funds
- Stripping $1.4 billion for general land and water conservation from the measure
- Dropping a requirement that automakers equip cars with computer programs to record vehicle operating details immediately before and after an accident.
The current extension of federal authorization to levy gasoline and diesel taxes and to spend money on surface transportation programs expires on Saturday. The conference committee would have to finalize proposed legislation today in order for Congress to approve the bill before the extension expires. There are procedural options, though, that would allow Congressional approval later in the week.
A tenth extension of SAFETEA-LU, the law that authorizes federal spending on highways and transit, also remains a possibility.