by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
Republican leaders in the House on Friday evening unveiled a measure to extend federal transportation funding for three weeks in an effort to prevent a highway-funding shutdown.
The measure (H.R. 3819) would extend federal transportation spending — currently set to expire Oct. 29 — until Nov. 20.
GOP leaders in the House have said the temporary patch will provide time for them to finish work on a six-year, $325 billion transportation funding bill that was approved Thursday by the chamber’s Transportation Committee.
“The committee’s overwhelming approval of the STRR Act today is a positive step forward for our Nation’s transportation system and our economy,” Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said in statement after the Thursday vote, even as he readied another temporary infrastructure patch.
“I look forward to House action on the bill and going to conference with the Senate as soon as possible,” Shuster continued about the mutliyear highway bill, which is known as the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015.
GOP leaders said Friday that the three-week highway funding package could come up for a vote on the floor of the House as early as Tuesday, which give the Senate two days to take up the patch before the scheduled expiration of the current transportation funding law.
The measure does not include any new money, because lawmakers included enough road funding in three-month transportation bill that was approved in July to last until the end of the year in case they needed more time to finish work on a multiyear fix. The earlier patch is scheduled to expire Thursday, necessitating the new measure that is now being introduced in the House.
Congress has not passed a transportation funding bill that last longer than two years since 2005, much to the chagrin of infrastructure advocates in Washington.
President Obama has also decried the number of temporary patches, which transportation advocates say hamstring state governments who are working on long-term construction projects. But the White House signaled Friday that Obama will sign the latest temporary road funding patch.
“The unfortunate reality is Congress will need to pass another short-term” measure, White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters Friday afternoon.
The Senate has already passed a bill that includes three years of guaranteed highway funding in July, and lawmakers in the upper chamber have said they expect to be able to get a multi-year highway bill to Obama’s desk by Thanksgiving.
“Both the Senate and the House bills have many similarities that will allow for a very short conference period,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement after the House panel’s vote.
“With this milestone, Congress should be able to send a bill to the president’s desk by Thanksgiving,” Inhofe continued. “This will allow for our nation to avoid the Highway Trust Fund hitting a dangerously low level, which DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx warned would significantly affect the 2016 construction season.”
The Department of Transportation has warned that it will have to stop making payments to states and local governments for infrastructure projects in November if Congress does not reach an agreement.
The temporary transportation funding bill also includes a provision that moves a Dec. 31 deadline for railroads to install an automated train navigation system known as Positive Train Control (PTC) to the end of 2018. The automated train extension had previously been attached to the House’s multiyear highway bill after railroads threatened to partially shutdown many of the nation’s railways.
-Jordan Fabian contributed to this report.