May 14, 2014 10:45 AM, EDT
Senators Introduce Six-Year Highway Bill

A key Senate committee introduced a six-year transportation bill that includes an expanded freight program.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s bill will be discussed publicly for the first time at a May 15 committee meeting.

Largely a continuation of the existing transportation spending law, MAP-21, the bill contains no new tolling provisions and does not address the issue of truck size and weight.

The measure would maintain about the same transportation spending levels as MAP-21, at about $105 billion per year, plus inflation.

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Building on the freight provisions in MAP-21, it would establish a formula-based freight program, which would send funds to all the states to improve goods movement on key freight corridors.

The bill also seeks to identify projects “with a high return on investment through state freight plans and advisory committees established under MAP-21.”

The bipartisan bill was authored by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and the ranking member on the committee, Sen. David Vitter ( R- La.).

The current law created a designated freight network based largely on the interstate highway system.

However, when the Department of Transportation unveiled the network last year, critics pointed out that the network mileage was low, leaving out some states and failing to include ports, railheads and the local highways that connect those facilities to interstate corridors.

Under the proposed legislation, urban and rural corridors could be added to the designated network, along with connections to such facilities as ports, grain elevators and railheads.

In addition, known freight bottlenecks would be added to the factors that allow states to designate funds for freight-related improvements.

The bill varies widely from the four-year, $302-billion plan that President Obama presented last month. The president’s plan would allow tolling on interstate highways and boost private investment in infrastructure.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has not yet proposed its own reauthorization bill.