Friday, November 11, 2011

Highway Bill Prospects Brighten

After more than two years of delay, prospects for Congressional action on a new transportation (”highway”) bill are suddenly improving.

The most recent long-term highway funding authorization legislation expired September 30, 2009.  Congress has continued the current program with a series of short term extensions.

On November 9, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in a unanimous 18-0 vote approved a two-year reauthorization of Federal highway programs at current funding levels. The bill now goes on the calendar for Senate floor action, where it must wait for three other committees to approve funding, transit, and safety provisions and programs. These will eventually be merged into one piece of legislation.

The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (or “MAP-21”)Act,  S. 1813, continues Federal surface transportation programs, which create a demand for surveying, mapping and other geospatial data, technologies and services.  The Senate bill changes current law by attempting to improve the efficiency of the regulatory review process for transportation projects and leveraging private sector financial resources through expansion of the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program. TIFIA provides Federal credit assistance in the form of direct loans, loan guarantees, and standby lines of credit to finance surface transportation projects of national and regional significance. The bipartisan bill was introduced by Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the panel’s ranking GOP member, as well as Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), and Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), chairman and ranking Republican, respectively, of the Highway Subcommittee.

Meanwhile, efforts to identify new transportation funding sources may be bearing fruit in the House of Representatives. There are reports the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman, Rep. John Mica (R-FL), and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) are nearing agreement on up to $15 billion more per year in oil development revenues, including those from drilling offshore and in Alaska.

“There’s a natural link between the two. As we develop new sources of American energy, we’re going to need modern infrastructure to bring that energy to the market,” Boehner stated on his website on Thursday, Nov. 3.

This is would be a major change from earlier this year, when the newly elected Republican Majority in the House adopted a new rule that transportation spending would be limited to the approximately $35 billion annually that flow from Federal gas tax receipts.

Mica has a draft bill that has not yet been made public, but a 22-page summary has been released. The bill includes numerous provisions that provide for an expanded private sector role in the Federal-state transportation program.  MAPPS has been working with members of the House committee on provisions regarding the private surveying, mapping and geospatial community.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee could mark up a bill in the next few weeks.

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