August 3, 2015

Congress Passes Another Short-Term Transportation Funding Bill

The U.S. House adjourned on Thursday for its August recess and before lawmakers left town they approved a three-month reauthorization for federal surface transportation programs. (The previous reauthorization expired on Friday, July 31.) A day after the House passed the bill on a 385 to 34 vote, the U.S. Senate voted 91 to 4 to approve it. 

While the bill prevents a cut off of federal transportation funding, MSCI and its allies were hopeful Congress would finalize a long-term reauthorization of these programs before its summer recess. (The three month extension is Congress’s 34th short-term extension.) The Senate was able to achieve that goal, but the House wasn’t. In addition to the three-month package, the Senate passed a six-year reauthorization package on a bipartisan 65 to 34 vote

According to a National Association of Manufacturers summary, the Senate’s bill, H.R. 22, the DRIVE Act, increases funding, pays special attention to freight projects, makes a commitment to bridge safety and includes reforms that will help expedite infrastructure project approvals. (You can find a full summary of the bill here. Specifically, the DRIVE Act, includes a bipartisan provision authored by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) that would reform the permitting process for federal transit programs. This provision, called the Federal Permitting Improvement Act, would streamline permitting for environmental reviews and permitting for major infrastructure, energy and manufacturing projects. The Portman/McCaskill provision would also:

  • Establish a range of new measures to streamline projects costing $200 million or more;
  • Provide for a new presidential appointee authority to speed up permit approvals;
  • Designate chief environmental review and permitting officers at federal agencies; and
  • Shorten, from six to two years, the statute of limitations for judicial review of permit decisions. (Read more about Sen. Portman and Sen. McCaskill’s efforts in this letter from the National Association of Manufacturers.)

With NAM, MSCI will continue to push for a long-term reauthorization to federal surface transportation programs. Lawmakers in the U.S. House will begin deliberations on their own long-term reauthorization bill in the fall. MSCI encourages its members to call or visit their House representatives over the August recess to encourage them to support a long-term reauthorization bill similar to the Senate’s. According to MSCI’s partners at the Coalition for Transportation Productivity, House lawmakers might also consider truck weight reform as part of their deliberations. MSCI supports these reforms and encourages its members to use the CTP website to register their support for these reforms as well, which would improve transit safety and efficiency and reduce greenhouse gases.