Senate EPW approves 6-year highway bill; funding questions linger

capitol at sunrise

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously approved a six-year surface transportation reauthorization bill Thursday morning.

Related: President Obama brings focus to highway bill during National Transportation Week

Top committee members Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), committee chairman; David Vitter (R-La.), committee ranking member; Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure; and John Barrasso (R-Wy.), subcommittee ranking member unveiled the bill, known as the MAP-21 Reauthorization Act, late Monday night.

No announcement has been made about when the full Senate will consider the bill.

Following the markup meeting on Thursday, Carper, who also serves on the Senate Finance Committee, said the next step is to find a way to fund the bill.

“[Working on the bill] is particularly important for those of us who also serve on the Senate Finance Committee,” Carper said in a prepared statement. “We need to work in a similar bipartisan fashion to quickly come to agreement on a fiscally responsible way to fund these crucial investments in our nation’s infrastructure.”

There has been concern about funding transportation projects, especially because the primary source of funding is quickly running out of money. The Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which funds most state and local projects, is projected to become insolvent by late August — at least a month before the current highway bill, MAP-21, expires.

Related: Foxx: Insolvent transportation system could cost 700k jobs

“I have had productive conversations with many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the Senate Finance Committee about the funding for this bill and I am confident we can coalesce around a common sense solution,” Carper added. “But we cannot wait much longer. Our states and cities are counting on us to get the job done. If we choose not to address the funding shortfall with a long-term solution, we will be undermining the ability of our states to do new multi-year projects that are important to local economies and private sector businesses.”

In a letter responding to Rep. Nick Rahall’s (D-W.Va.) question about what could happen if the HTF brought in no new revenue, the Congressional Budget Office said highway funding would plummet by more than 30 percent. Read the full letter here.

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Carper said he is remaining positive about congressional action on the HTF.

“As a glass-is-half-full kind of guy, I believe Congress will do what it must and act to shore up the Highway Trust Fund and provide the long-term certainty that will benefit nearly every business and resident across the country,” Carper said.

To view the committee’s markups on the multi-year bill, click here.