Senate passes 3-month transportation funding extension and long-term DRIVE Act

capitol at sunrise

The Senate worked double-time on transportation funding issues Thursday, passing the House’s $8 billion, three-month extension (H.R. 3236) and its own DRIVE Act (H.R. 22). The extension, the 34th such measure since 2008, now moves on to President Obama for his signature to keep the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) financed until Oct. 29.

The extension bill passed 91-4, while the DRIVE (Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy) Act passed 65-34. House and Senate leaders have stated the two chambers will take up the DRIVE Act in conference this fall to work out and agree to details for a long-term transportation funding solution.

As it stands now, the legislation is a six-year effort, but only provides guaranteed funding for the HTF for three years. Revenue would come from a variety of offsets and would not increase the gas tax, a promise made by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), one of the bill’s chief architects. The gas tax, set at 18.4 cents per gallon, is the chief funding mechanism for the HTF and has not been increased in 22 years.

Bill ShusterBill Shuster

Representative Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania), who introduced H.R. 3236, said the extension would give the House more time to work on a “fiscally responsible” proposal to take to conference with the Senate.

“We all share the same goal of completing a long-term bill as soon as possible, and ensuring that critical programs do not shut down before we achieve that goal is the right thing to do,” he said.

Breathing room is a function of the DRIVE Act as well, a point McConnell made before the Senate’s vote.

Mitch McConnellMitch McConnell

“Because it’s a multi-year bill, it would give states, cities, and towns the certainty they need to better plan road and bridge projects into the future,” he said. “The multi-year nature of this legislation is one of its most critical components. It’s also something the House and Senate are now united on. We all want the House to have the space it needs to develop its own bill, because we all want to work out the best possible legislation for the American people in conference.”

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The Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC), co-chaired by American Road & Transportation Builders Association President and CEO Pete Ruane, and Association General Contractors of America CEO Stephen Sandherr, said in a statement the DRIVE Act would provide “real growth” for transportation investment.

“Today’s Senate vote on the DRIVE Act and the expected enactment of a three-month extension of the surface transportation programs by July 31 should bring to a close once and for all claims that Congress needs “more time” to develop a long-term reauthorization bill and Highway Trust Fund solution,” the TCC said. “For more than a year members of both parties and chambers have used this rationalization for kicking the reauthorization can down the road.  The time for any further short-term extensions is over.”

The TCC also lauded Shuster’s statement about being committed to long-term funding. “Achieving this goal, however, will require House Republican leaders and the Ways & Means Committee to develop a bipartisan plan to generate the resources necessary to grow highway and public transportation investment,” the group said. “This must be a priority focus over the next six weeks.”

The National Sand Stone and Gravel Association (NSSGA) also applauded the Senate’s efforts.

“We were glad to see progress made towards a long-term investment in our country’s infrastructure. Sens. McConnell, Inhofe and Boxer demonstrated that a multi-year, well-funded and bipartisan bill is possible and we are grateful for their effort,” NSSGA President and CEO Michael W. Johnson said. “While it is disappointing to see another short-term extension, we challenge the House to finish the job started by the Senate and create a long-term bill when they return from recess.”