Federal Highway Programs Poised to Lapse

Federal Highway Programs Poised to Lapse

Failure by the Senate to act on the latest extension of the highway bill leaves federal spending programs about to expire at the end of Sunday, Feb. 28.

The House late Thursday passed a bill to extend until March 28 the existing highway program along with other federal programs, but a similar effort failed in the Senate.

The 2005 transportation law has been extended three times in the last six months. Without another reprieve, it will expire at midnight on Sunday, resulting in a shutdown of the Department of Transportation. Employees of the Federal Highway Administration will be sent home Monday, reimbursement to states for spending on highway projects will stop.

The House bill passed the emergency measure by a voice vote. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., asked unanimous consent in the Senate, but Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., objected. Durbin made the same request on Friday morning but was again blocked by Bunning. There is not likely to be further action until Monday afternoon.

The bill was the House response to the Senate’s version of the jobs bill that passed on Wednesday. The Senate bill would extend the highway program known as SAFETEA-LU until the end of the year, but continued a spending formula for disbursing some $900 million for “projects of national or regional significance” that benefits California and three other states.

Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, opposes the spending language in the Senate bill, and proposed an alternative that would spend the money by the same formula that’s in SAFETEA-LU.

Jim Berard, the committee’s press secretary, said that Oberstar’s proposal will be offered as an amendment to the jobs bill. He said House and Senate leaders are now in negotiations on the bill.

Contact R.G. Edmonson at bedmonson@joc.com.