The House of Representatives voted 421-4 this afternoon to extend until Sept. 30 federal highway and transit programs that are slated to expire Friday. The bill now goes to the Senate.
Today's vote came one day after the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials sent a letter to all members of Congress urging swift adoption of the measure.
"While AASHTO continues to support congressional efforts to enact a well-funded, long-term surface transportation bill, the absence of such a bill makes this extension essential to creating and sustaining jobs and maintaining America's transportation infrastructure," wrote AASHTO Executive Director John Horsley. "Furthermore, this extension provides much needed certainty for the construction industry, states, and localities as they begin the 2011 construction season."
The bill passed by the House, HR 662, would extend until the end of this federal fiscal year the 2005 highway and transit authorization law -- the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient, Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, commonly known as "SAFETEA-LU." Expenditure authority for the Highway Trust Fund would also continue through Sept. 30. This would be the seventh short-term extension of SAFETEA-LU, the latest of which expires in two days. SAFETEA-LU was originally scheduled to expire Sept. 30, 2009, but has not been replaced by another long-term measure.
In Tuesday's letter, Horsley stressed the need for Congress to enact a multiyear surface transportation reauthorization bill during the next seven months so no more short-term extensions of SAFETEA-LU are needed.
"The uncertainty created by the lack of a multiyear federal commitment to improving America's highway and public transportation facilities will contribute to a slowdown in transportation development activity in many states," Horsley wrote. "The jobs impact of this situation has rippled throughout the economy. Workers at design and engineering firms, construction companies, equipment manufacturers, and materials providers have lost their jobs and even more positions are on the line due to uncertainty in federal funding, at a time in which the U.S. unemployment rate remains at record highs."
The full text of Horsley's letter is available at bit.ly/Horsley030111.
Support for Extension Nearly Unanimous
During less than an hour of debate this afternoon on the House floor, no representatives spoke against the extension. Several members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee urged action on moving forward a long-term reauthorization.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon and ranking minority member of the House Highways and Transit Subcommittee, said the United States is falling behind many other nations when it comes to investing in transportation infrastructure.
"We have the worst infrastructure of any modern nation on Earth," DeFazio said. "It's not right. It doesn't serve our businesses or communities well."
DeFazio noted the Senate this morning passed and sent to the president a two-week continuing resolution (House Joint Resolution 44) extending government funding from Friday to March 18, a measure that includes nearly $1 billion in cuts to transportation programs including a $650 million reduction in highway spending for this fiscal year compared to Fiscal Year 2010, rescission of $293 million in unspent transportation earmarks from previous years, and a $25 million reduction in the Rail Line Relocation and Improvement program.