Just days before the latest extension of the current highway bill – Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA–LU) – was set to expire on March 31, the Senate approved a 90-day extension of the federal highway funding that was passed by the House on March 29.
However, Democrats criticized Republicans for not accepting a two-year, $109 billion version of the transportation measure the Senate had approved on a bipartisan vote earlier in March, according to a report in The Hill (http://tinyurl.com/highway-extension).
The measure, H.R 4281, is being sent to President Obama for his signature. This measure extends the current funding for road and transit projects until June 30, making this the ninth extension of SAFETEA-LU. The original bill expired on Sept. 30, 2009. SAFETEA-LU’s predecessor, The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), enacted on Aug. 10, 2005, underwent 12 extensions throughout a two-year period.
“While we supported the extension approved today to prevent a shutdown of essential infrastructure improvements across the nation, that support should not be confused as acceptance of inaction on a multi-year reauthorization bill,” Transportation Construction Coalition Co-Chairs T. Peter Ruane, president and CEO of American Road & Transportation Builders Association and Stephen Sandherr, CEO of Associated General Contractors of America, said in a joint statement just hours after the extension passed.
“Our members are growing increasingly frustrated that Congress seems incapable of passing critical legislation that improves the flow of commerce and promotes economic growth,” Ruane and Sandherr continued in the statement. “The construction industry continues to suffer from chronic unemployment and the continued delay in enacting a longer term bill prohibits them from expanding their workforces and investing in new equipment.”
At the time of this posting, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said at his weekly press conference on March 29 – the day the extension was enacted – that the House was planning to take up the highway bill again when legislators returned to Washington, D.C., on April 16 after a spring recess.
The National Stone, Sand Gravel Association (NSSGA) says its message remains the same as it has been: “Congress must act now to pass a multi-year bill that maintains level funding at a minimum.” The association is urging its member to visit with their own members of Congress while they are in their districts to tell them, “America cannot wait any longer for a new highway bill.”
Following the decision by House Republicans to pass a 90-day stopgap extension of transportation programs, Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said she thinks “it will lead to thousands of job losses across the country.” Boxer called on the House to pass the bipartisan Senate transportation bill, which she says would create or save nearly 3 million jobs. “I will continue to push back to save jobs and stop the Highway Trust Fund from going bankrupt,” she said.
However, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) defended House Republicans for shunning the bill. “It almost always takes two years to do a transportation bill, and I’ve been at it for 14 months,” he told reporters after the House voted 266-158 to approve the 90-day extension, according to a report in The Hill (http://tinyurl.com/Mica-and-House-bill). “I think there is progress we’ve made,” Mica said. “I am very pleased with the outcome today [March 29].”
For a more detailed report, see the May 2012 issue of Aggregates Manager magazine in print or in digital.