Sen. Barbara Boxer, whose Environment and Public Works Committee takes the lead in drafting surface transportation legislation, is expected to propose extending current highway and transit programs so they do not expire Sept. 30.
The Transportation Weekly newsletter reported that Boxer, D-Calif. and EPW’s chair, late last week told industry stakeholders she will offer a four-month extension on Sept. 8, proposing that Highway Trust Fund programs be continued at current levels and with no policy changes until the end of January.
That would carry the debate on how to fund transportation infrastructure spending, and by how much, past the time period when a congressional “super committee” is to craft another round of deficit cuts.
Boxer’s committee staff would not confirm the report, which also said the senator wants the EPW committee on Sept. 15 to mark up a two-year transportation bill she developed with James Inhofe, R-Okla., the panel’s ranking Republican.
President Obama says he will include another round of construction project financing, through an infrastructure bank or passage of the highway bill, as one of the job-creating policy actions he will propose for lawmakers soon after Labor Day.
Transportation groups have become increasingly concerned that Congress could let highway programs or their main fuel taxes expire at the end of September, or play brinksmanship as lawmakers did with the debt ceiling and a short extension of aviation programs.
Once Congress returns from its August recess it will have just three weeks to extend highway programs, and so far neither the House nor Senate has acted on permanent legislation. Boxer and Inhofe proposed a two-year bill, while House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., is drafting a six-year bill.
The National League of Cities said “it is likely that Congress will include extension of the highway, bridge and transit programs” in an overall spending bill to keep funding government past the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year. But it warned “it is unclear what that extension will look like.”
A spokesman for the American Association of State, Highway and Transportation Officials warned members, “There are only 11 legislative days left before the current extension of the nation’s highway and transit programs runs out.” Lawmakers must act soon, he said, “to prevent a crisis” that would disrupt the flow of federal funds to state agencies overseeing thousands of construction projects.