Senate Limits Debate, Inches Closer to Vote on Highway Bill

Sen. Barbara Boxer via

The Senate late on July 27 agreed to limit debate on a six-year highway bill, paving the way for final passage within days.

The bill, which includes a provision calling for the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, would keep highway programs funded for the first three years of authorization.

When the Senate convenes at 11 a.m. EDT on July 28, members will consider amendments offered by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Debate on other amendments is expected.

Meanwhile, the GOP leaders in the House have indicated they would not take up the Senate bill before the Highway Trust Fund expires July 31.

“I applaud the Senate for taking another significant step in advancing the DRIVE Act in Congress,” said Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.). “I am confident we will have this legislation ready for the House before the July 31 deadline, and it is my hope that the House will reconsider taking up this bipartisan piece of legislation that gives long-term funding certainty for our nation’s highway system, the backbone of our economy."

Earlier in the day, Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) took to the Senate floor to again call on colleagues to back his effort to delay authorization of twin 33-foot trailers nationwide.

“We’re nearing the time when supporters of the Feinstein-Wicker amendment are hoping for a vote,” Wicker said, referring to the proposal he’s co-sponsoring with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) calling for a comprehensive review of combination trailers before they are allowed around the country. They are seeking the amendment’s adoption as part of the Senate’s consideration of a six-year highway bill.

Senate floor managers have yet to indicate if the Feinstein-Wicker amendment would be called up for consideration.

Specifically, the amendment would allow the secretary of transportation to propose a rule that would increase maximum lengths for pup trailers to 33 feet from 28 feet if the secretary “makes a statistically significant finding” based on a comprehensive truck size and weight study. Also, the secretary would need to determine that the change in the length of trailers would not negatively impact public safety.

Nationwide use of twin 33s is backed by American Trucking Associations and an assortment of companies and industry leaders.

“The experience of Florida and North Dakota, where twin 33s already operate safely — and other states, including Pennsylvania, that allow even longer combinations — and the research already done on truck safety show us that these vehicles can be operated safely and should be allowed on U.S. highways,” said Sean McNally, ATA’s vice president of public affairs.

During his floor speech, Wicker also criticized a fiscal 2016 transportation funding bill that advanced out of committee in the Senate. The funding bill would pave the way for firms to operate twin 33-foot trailers nationwide. During that bill’s consideration at committee, Feinstein fought GOP-led efforts to include the twin 33s provision in the bill.

“It’s time to get informed on this issue. It’s time to find out what the facts are, to realize that this appropriations [committee] decision that I’m trying to reverse and put the brakes on, to a certain extent, is not permissive in nature,” Wicker said.