Congress Approves 6-Month Transportation Extension

Highway Trust Fund Account Balances FY 06-11 (FHWA)

An update on Federal funding for surface transportation and aviation from the American Planning Association:

The Senate approved a clean, six-month extension of surface transportation programs and sent it to the president for his signature late last week. The House approved the legislation earlier in the week.

The extension of SAFETEA-LU was combined with a four-month extension of Federal Aviation Administration programs to allow Congress more time to work out the reauthorization details of both major transportation laws. The measure extends the federal gas tax and authorizes funding for surface transportation programs at FY11 levels through March 31, 2012.

Half of this year’s $41.7 billion will be authorized for the six-month bill, but if budget cuts in the FY12 appropriations bill are approved, transportation funding could still be significantly reduced in the second half of the fiscal year.

The extension measure was briefly held up when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) sought to add language to remove all Transportation Enhancements funding, despite an agreement by leadership to pass a clean extension. This program is the primary source of funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects that enable safe access to the transportation system for millions of users. The Transportation Enhancements program represents less than 2 percent of all federal transportation funding. Coburn agreed to remove his hold on the legislation after receiving assurances that he will be allowed to offer the language to the long-term reauthorization measure.

This is the eighth extension of SAFETEA-LU since it first expired in September 2009. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) has said that it is also the last one that he will support. Lawmakers now have six months to negotiate the details of a reauthorization bill.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Cal.) said that her committee’s two-year proposal is almost ready for its mark-up, and that a deal on offsetting the additional $12 billion in spending not supported by the Highway Trust Fund is nearing completion. The costs of the proposal will have to be analyzed before Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) agrees to move forward.

The House proposal sticks with the traditional six-year timeline, but significantly reduces spending to stay within the confines of lagging Highway Trust Fund revenue. Mica has said that 70 percent of his bill has been drafted and he hopes to bring it up for a vote soon.

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