The U.S. Senate approved legislation yesterday afternoon to extend federal highway and transit programs for seven months. The measure now heads to President Barack Obama for his expected signature, avoiding a suspension of reimbursements to state transportation departments that would have taken effect Saturday if Congress hadn't acted this week to extend the programs beyond their Friday expiration.
Senators cleared the bill, HR 662, by voice vote about 4:30 p.m. EST. The Senate's vote came without debate in the midst of consideration of an unrelated measure to reform U.S. patent laws. The House of Representatives passed the legislation Wednesday. (see March 2 AASHTO Journal story)
"We're pleased that the bill has passed the House and the Senate, and now we set about the hard work of getting a multiyear reauthorization in place later this year," said John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-California, said in a statement that the seven-month extension of Fiscal Year 2009 funding levels for highways and mass transit will save and create jobs in the construction industry and help get the economy back on track.
"With the construction season upon us, this extension is especially important because it will give states the certainty they need to award contracts and get projects underway," she said. "This will help ensure that jobs are saved and created in California and across the country. I am continuing to work with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle on a new surface transportation bill for the 21st century. Our goal is to get this legislation enacted by the end of this year."
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 Friday. SAFETEA-LU was originally scheduled to expire Sept. 30, 2009, but has not been replaced by another long-term measure.