May 23, 2015 7:00 AM, EDT

Senate Sends President Two-Month Highway Funding Extension

Inhofe by Bloomberg News

The Senate on May 23 easily passed a two-month extension of highway funding authority, sending the measure to the president for his signature.

The White House has indicated it would support the short-term patch. Funding authority for the Highway Trust Fund expires May 31.

After the vote, the leaders of the Senate’s transportation policy panel said they plan to hold a markup hearing on a six-year highway reauthorizing bill on June 24.

“With the two-month extension of the Highway Trust Fund, Congress prevented many critical road, bridge and transit projects from coming to a grinding halt. But it's time we end this costly uncertainty with the Highway Trust Fund. The only solution to fixing this problem is to enact a consensus-based, bipartisan, six-year surface transportation bill that will provide states and local communities the funding and the certainty they need to plan and construct multiyear projects to modernize our infrastructure,” said Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Environment and Public Works panel, in a statement.

The short-term extension was met with disappointment by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. “We are disappointed and frustrated,” said Bud Wright, executive director of the AASHTO. “This two-month extension is a reflection of the inability of Congress to fund a long-term surface transportation bill, which has caused uncertainty among our members. State DOTs are already postponing construction projects this year because they can’t count on federal funds to be there. Millions of dollars that should be flowing into communities, creating jobs and paying for projects to improve safety and mobility aren’t being funded. Congress must find the political will to pass a long-term bill and put these short-term patches aside. ”

There appears to be bipartisan support in the GOP-led Congress for a long-term highway bill. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) told Transport Topics he hopes the two-month patch is the last time lawmakers approve a short-term extension. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), a senior transportation authorizer, urged colleagues earlier this week to back a multiyear highway bill: “We need to do it this summer.”

According to the Congressional Budget Office’s recent baseline, the trust fund is spending slower than expected, and a two-month patch would eliminate the need for offsets before August. After August, Congress would need to transfer funds into the trust fund or implement a long-term funding fix to keep the account operable.

Since 2008, Congress has approved more than $65 billion in transfers to prevent the fund’s collapse.