On the eve of the shutdown of road, bridge and other transportation construction projects all across the nation, Friday Congress passed and sent to President Obama a 27 month, $109 billion extension of the federal highway Trust Fund, for the present resolving all the political wrangling over the details of federal infrastructure funding, as well as some tag along issues which had hoped to hitch their wagons to this star piece of “must pass” legislation. The House voted 373-52 in favor of the conference committee bill, and the Senate followed with a 74-19 vote with one Senator voting “present.” This is the first time since 2005 that Congress has agreed on a long term Highway Trust Fund bill.
According to Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer and House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, the bill will save more than 2 million jobs in the heavy civil construction sector of the American economy.
The last second compromise coming out of the conference committee dropped the House Republican’s pet provision intended to fast track construction of the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, and in return Democrats on the conference committee agreed to drop $1.4 billion they hoped to allocate for environmental conservation. The bill also permits state highway departments to reallocate funds formerly set aside for bicycle paths and highway beautification programs.
The hoopla surrounding successful passage of this bill is masking the reality that even funding national infrastructure construction at the $54 billion per year level will woefully underfund road building during the remainder of this decade. The bill will provide infrastructure funding far less than the Obama Administration meekly asked for early in this Congressional session – about $80 billion annually. The nation’s needs for simply maintaining our current transportation infrastructure require a minimum of $100 billion every year. Real modernization and expansion of transportation facilities, and the concomitant reinvigoration of the nation’s construction economy, would have required appropriation of $200 billion each and every year for the rest of the decade.
So, while our leaders in Congress are busy trumpeting their passage of a woefully inadequate and truncated long term Highway Trust Fund reauthorization measure, what they are really doing is using smoke and mirrors to defer any real action on the nation’s transportation infrastructure needs until well after the November elections.