Last Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to extend highway and transit programs until December 18, 2015 on a 312-119 vote. The House bill granted a $8.1 billion boost the Highway trust Fund (HTF) to keep it solvent past the looming July 31 deadline. This extension will fund surface transportation projects through the mid-December timeframe.
The decision was reached, because extending the program is seen as a far better alternative than allowing the HTF to run out of money. “The last thing we want to do is see road construction stop at the beginning of August,” said Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee.
This week the Senate will pursue an alternative approach, where a bipartisan group of Republicans and Democrats, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell want to pass a long-term bill. Senate Republican leaders are trying to find money for a six-year bill, the DRIVE Act, which cleared the Environment and Public Works Committee a few weeks ago. The bill, S. 1647, would provide a twenty percent increase in funding over the course of six years and proposes reforms to improve freight movement, deliver large projects and streamline project delivery.
The cycle of short-term extensions has blocked planning and delivery of major projects in several states, and even more states have announced that they will be forced to cancel and delay projects until the Congress enacts a multi-year bill.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has said that uncertainty about highway funds has led to canceled projects in Georgia, Tennessee, Vermont, Delaware and Arkansas. He said that unless Congress acts to extend funding beyond the July 31 deadline, the U.S. Department of Transportation “will not have the authority to provide project sponsors with any additional contract authority for new or ongoing projects.” In early August, the balance of the Highway Trust Fund will drop below $4 billion which is when the reimbursement payments to states for completed projects will slow.
The time is now to focus on the activity in the Senate and urge lawmakers to vote in favor of a long-term bill by the July 31 deadline. To help, you can:
- Send a request today to meet with your members of Congress: Here are some helpful hints and how to set up a “back home” meeting.
- Contact your Senators via letter or phone call: If you can’t meet in person, send your Senators a quick letter or give their office a call and ask for the staff that handles transportation. Look up their number and get talking points here.
- Communicate with your member of Congress via social media: Most members of Congress have Facebook and Twitter pages. In addition to calling or writing a letter, urge them to #FixTheTrustFund on social media.