Five days and counting…

By Janet Kavinoky

U.S. Senate deliberations on H.R. 22 – the DRIVE Act – continued through the weekend with the July 31 deadline looming, and while the bill would provide a much needed long-term reauthorization of federal highway and public transit programs, certain provisions in the legislation could be improved while others raise flat-out concerns.

Among the important policy enhancements offered through the DRIVE Act are:

  • Provisions based on S. 280, the Federal Permit Improvement Act, which is critical to ensuring that critical infrastructure projects are not delayed or cancelled because federal agencies cannot act in a coordinated, effective manner.
  • The creation of a graduated licensing program for commercial drivers that would allow states to extend commercial driver licenses to and permit limited interstate travel by 18 to 21 year olds.
  • The extension of the federally-mandated December 2015 Positive Train Control implementation deadline.

The U.S. Chamber and our fellow ATM Coalition members have long championed reauthorization of the current highway, transit, and highway safety law, MAP-21, with a six-year highway, transit, and highway safety bill paid for by user fees and providing much needed increased investment in the nation’s transportation system.

ATM members share the opinion that transportation legislation should be paid for through ongoing, transportation-based revenue sources that are sustainably-structured to fully support the proposed funding levels. Unfortunately, some funding for this bill would be provided by a variety of one-time offsets unrelated to transportation.

Of concern any effort to use revenues derived from repatriated income for use as an offset to the DRIVE act authorizations or to capitalize federal infrastructure financing facilities, funds, or banks as well as any reduction of investment levels in transportation infrastructure by devolving the federal program to state and local entities.

A highly problematic part of the bill, in my view and that of U.S. Chamber, is the substantial decreases in authorization levels for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program, which is a critical tool for enabling public-private partnerships and attracting private capital to finance infrastructure investment.

Although House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said last week that the Senate should take up the House bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell instead said he expected the House would take up a long-term bill, if it is passed out of the Senate. However, after having punted again and passing another MAP-21 extension (five months) in mid-July, the House should finally take a long-term approach, but whether and when they will pursue a multi-year bill remains in question.

As Congress continues its slow pace toward whatever solution comes next, 68 organizations representing every sector of the U.S. economy, including most ATM Coalition members, sent a letter reminding them of the key facts of the equation they need to solve:

“The U.S. economy and all Americans require a surface transportation infrastructure network that can keep pace with growing demands. A six-year federal commitment to prioritize and invest in our aging infrastructure and safety needs is essential to achieve this goal….Temporary program extensions and eight years of recurring Highway Trust Fund revenue crises do not provide a path to future economic growth, jobs and increased competitiveness.”

Over the next five days, and for whatever amount of time it takes after July 31 when the current extension expires, ATM Coalition members will continue to enlist our respective memberships to call and email Congress, urge them to work toward advancing a multi-year transportation bill, and remind them of the importance of providing our nation’s highway programs with critical certainty in the coming hours and days.

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