SAFETEA-LU Extended Again. Again.

I suppose the best that can be said of it is that they didn’t go playing brinkmanship games.

The House just went ahead and approved a $1.2 trillion continuing resolution to keep federal agencies (including Federal highway programs) funded and thus up and running through the end of September. Next week the Senate may, or may not, rubber stamp it, stall it until it dies, ignore or play games with it.

Without this move midnight Dec. 31 might have seen the lights goes out, doors close and roadbuilding equipment get parked (or at least the pieces that aren’t already parked).

According to the National Asphalt Pavement Association reading of the resolution, the CR, ” will give state DOT’s a full fiscal year of authorization to plan for their 2011 construction season. The Federal Highway Program will receive a total of $41.9 billion in contract authority that FHWA will allocate to the states under the SAFETEA-LU formula. The CR will provide $41.1 billion for the Federal Highway Program for 2011, the exact amount provided for in 2010. There are no earmarks of any kind in the Continuing Resolution. $41.1 billion is the amount states can actually spend on their Federal Highway Program in 2011.”

So now what?

If the Senate plays ball we can look through the end of September and keep living with SAFETEA-LU as we have been since it expired. Sometime before then the John Mica [R-Fla]-led House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee could come up with a new bill.Then the fight’s on to get that passed and supported in some form in the Senate. If such a bill doesn’t go anywhere by September 30 it probably isn’t going anywhere period as the new presidential election cycles kicks in. That means September 30 will see another extension (or a shutdown). But how long will that extension be?

States already dangerously strapped for cash will appreciate the CR because it clears the decks for  serious moves for a new bill, and Mica has indicated he’ll go to bat for it. But until one arrives states are still stuck without any long term planning ability. So if Mica can’t get it done, states will be holding their breath to see how long the extension after September 30 will be. If it is in months, or even a year, they’ll be in a major quandary that will affect a lot of lives in this industry.