House passes $325 billion, 6-year transportation bill

Updated Nov 19, 2015
(Phto: VCU CNS / Flickr)(Phto: VCU CNS / Flickr)

America’s infrastructure is much closer to having long-term funding following the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passing a new highway bill on Thursday.

According to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, after representatives voted on over 100 amendments, the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 was passed with a resounding 363-64 vote.

The bill, which was approved by the committee Oct. 22, would send $261 billion to highways, $55 billon to transit programs and another $9 billion on safety programs. The bill and its many amendments also reauthorized the Export Import Bank’s charter through 2019.

“Properly investing in and modernizing this country’s infrastructure should be a top priority of the federal government,” House Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Missouri) said. “But for the past decade, states have been forced to operate off of one short-term highway extension after another. A multi-year surface transportation bill is critical to all of those responsible for maintaining America’s roads and bridges, and today’s bipartisan vote reflects that. I want to thank Chairman Shuster and Ranking Members DeFazio and Holmes Norton for all of their hard work completing this bill.”

It would be the first transportation bill with funding for longer than two years passed by Congress since 2005.

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee member Peter DeFazio, who co-authord the bill, said the bill doesn’t give the full investment that would be needed to completely fix the “1950s-era system of roads” in America, but added that it’s a step in the right direction.

The Senate passed its long-term transportation bill called the DRIVE Act earlier this year, but the House didn’t act on it because of certain concerns regarding funding—the bill had funding for three years, but made commitments for six. However, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) said the two bills are similar enough to make an agreement.

The Hill reported that the STRR Act will now be conferenced with the DRIVE Act before a bill is sent to President Barack Obama’s desk to be signed.

“Today the House voted to give our infrastructure and our economy a much needed shot in the arm,” Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) said. “The STRR Act provides strong reforms and policies to help us improve America’s transportation system, and now we can get to work on resolving the differences with the Senate bill and carry a final measure over the goal line.”

The bill was lauded by American Road and Transportation Builders Association President and CEO Pete Ruane as well as the Association of Equipment Manufacturers President Dennis Slater.

“Equipment manufacturers applaud the House for passing The STRR Act, a long-term highway bill that will spur investments to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure. This legislation is a worthwhile effort by House leaders to fulfill their pledge to pass a long-term highway bill this fall,” Slater said.

Ruane was similarly effusive and said that Shuster and DeFazio deserve “enormous” credit for getting the bill passed in a bipartisan manner. He added that the bill finally helps end the cycle of short-term patch after patch. However, he did say echo DeFazio and said the bill doesn’t quite go far enough when it comes to finding a revenue source, such as a gas tax increase, to generate revenue for the Highway Trust Fund.

“We urge members of the House and Senate to increase the investment levels in the final proposal that emerges from the conference committee. Absent a permanent Highway Trust Fund fix, the measure should also establish a bicameral, congressional task force with deadlines and consequences for Congress to finally develop a long-term plan to stabilize highway and public transit funding. Only then will America be able to begin building an infrastructure network that drives economic growth and boosts competitiveness in a 21st century global marketplace,” Ruane said.