Mica’s Move is Made: Now let’s keep moving

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica and Members of the committee unveiled the American Energy an Infrastructure Jobs Act yesterday.

I would like to think contractors, subs, agencies,equipment dealerships and OEMs are excited and getting ready to move quickly if this bill can become a reality. After some years of flatlining it has the power to provide a very sharp up-shift in activity.

“This legislation may be the most important jobs measure to pass Congress this year,” Mica said.

“The American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act is the largest transportation reform bill since the creation of the Interstate Highway System in 1956,” said Mica. “This is a five-year bill that reforms our federal transportation programs, cuts the red tape and bureaucracy that delays projects across the country, gives states more flexibility to determine their most critical infrastructure needs, provides states with the long-term stability to undertake major improvements, and encourages private sector participation in helping to finance transportation projects.”

Mica also noted that the new legislation contains no earmarks. The previous long-term law authorizing federal surface transportation programs, known as SAFETEA-LU, contained over 6,300 earmarks. That law expired in September 2009. Since then, Congress has passed eight short-term extensions. Each party blames the other for the extensions.No surprise there.

There are not a whole lot of surprises in the bill, it contains what we expected after it’s arrival was announced last week. The reforms are impressive, and fortunately the Senate has at least agreed that reforms such as these are needed and should be implemented. On money and bill length of course House and Senate are at odds.The most important immediate question is whether we will see some steady progress in the movement of this bill in the House (and it appears this might be the case) and then a bicameral effort to turn two visions of reauthorization into one.

It remains the case that transportation infrastructure is the most doable bipartisan project in Washington. Even an old-fashioned cynic like me can see than in an election year its not a bad thing for both sides to be able to point to at least one major piece of legislation, one breakthrough, one influential act of progress, in which they can claim to have put party bickering aside for the good of the country.

But even with some bipartisan effort, timing is a factor. It is an election year, and the shrinking distance between passing a bill and the November vote becomes an important variable. We need some fairly rapid joint action if we are to get a bill passed this year. And of the course the man who must sign it is one the November candidates, another variable.

The Committee is scheduled to begin consideration of the transportation reauthorization portion of the bill tomorrow

In his summary of the bill,  Mica outlined the transportation reauthorization and reform provisions:

• Authorize approximately $260 billion over five years to fund federal highway, transit and safety programs, consistent with current funding levels

• Provide long-term stability for states to undertake major infrastructure projects

• Contain no earmarks, compared to the previous transportation law which contained over 6,300 earmarks

• Consolidate or eliminate nearly 70 federal programs

• Eliminate mandates that states spend highway funding on non-highway activities

• Allow states to set their own transportation priorities

• Delegate more project approval authority to states

• Condense deadlines for federal agency project approvals

• Accelerate the approval process for projects in an existing right-of-way

• Encourage states to partner with the private sector to finance and build projects

• Streamline the project delivery process and reduces regulatory burdens for rail projects

• Call for the funds collected for the improvement of the nation’s harbors to be invested for that purpose

• Ensure the safe, efficient transportation of hazardous materials in a manner that does not impose unnecessary burdens on the flow of commerce