Editorial: Inching Toward a Highway Bill

This Editorial appears in the Nov. 14 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

At last, we’ve had some movement on Capitol Hill toward enactment of a new federal transportation funding act.

The previous national spending measure for highways and related facilities expired in 2009, and Congress has extended that bill eight times; the current extension is due to expire on March 31.

As detailed elsewhere in this issue, two Democrats and two Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee have agreed on a $109 billion transportation spending bill, ushered it through the committee and sent it to the full Senate for consideration.

While far from the full six-year bill that we’d like to see, it is a positive sign to see this committee make concrete progress toward addressing the critical needs of infrastructure repair and expansion.

Not only does this two-year plan maintain spending near the current level of $50 billion a year, it includes a plan to create a national freight transportation system that could help speed the repair of freight-related routes around the country.

It’s a relief to see some progress, considering the logjam that has dominated relations in Congress for months. To see four senators of both parties agree on a plan gives us some hope for the future.

The chairwoman of the Senate panel, Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), said the legislation “is completely bipartisan and, therefore, no one is going to think it is perfect.”

The ranking Republican on the committee, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, agreed, saying that each of the senators “has given” on major points.

The other sponsors of the measure are David Vitter (R-La.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

The next step for the panel is to find another $12 billion in order to fully fund the legislation; as of now, they can account only for about $97 billion.

Baucus, who also is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, assured his colleagues that the sponsors would find the additional money before asking the full Senate to endorse the plan.

We hope the leadership in House will take the Senate panel’s move as a call to action.

While Rep. John Mica, the Republican chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has made it clear that he favors a six-year funding bill, as is usual, we urge him to work with the Senate to find a way to fund the nation’s transportation infrastructure system.