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May 15, 2014 11:00 AM, EDT
Senate Committee Approves Six-Year Transportation Bill
Sen. Tom Carper — Jaclyn O’Laughlin/ATA

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously approved a six-year, $265 billion highway reauthorization bill that makes freight a core element within the federal highway program.

After the May 15 vote, the bill will go to other committees — Commerce, Banking and Finance — that will work on the measure’s transit, highway safety and funding portions.

“This is an important step to focus transportation funds in a way that can support economic growth by reducing costs for businesses, helping them grow and better compete,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who chairs the panel’s transportation and infrastructure subcommittee.

But “a short-term extension only extends the uncertainty,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, the committee’s chairwoman.

The bill would require states to spend a portion of their federal highway money on projects that enhance freight mobility and allocates $6 billion over the life of the bill for freight projects.

It calls for a $400 million-a-year competitive grant program for projects of regional and national significance — projects that could improve freight mobility.

The original version of the existing transportation spending law known as MAP-21 expires Sept. 30. The new MAP-21 bill would maintain current spending levels for highways, plus inflation.

But it does not propose new funding methods, and just to fund for inflation, Congress will have to find $100 million over what the fuel tax is expected to generate for the Highway Trust Fund over the coming six years.

The House has not yet indicated what will be in its transportation bill or when that measure will be unveiled.