The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Oct. 22 overwhelmingly approved via voice-vote a six-year, $325 billion surface transportation bill that largely maintains baseline funding for highway and transit projects.
The Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015, H.R. 3763, is a companion bill to the Senate’s DRIVE Act passed in July. With just one week remaining until the current extension expires, however, NATSO anticipates that Congress will pass another short-term extension to highway law.
The shake up in the House Ways and Means Committee amid Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wisc.) announcement that he will run for House Speaker adds to the uncertainty of when Congress will finalize a multi-year bill. As the Ways and Means Committee Chairman, Rep. Ryan oversaw the funding portion of the highway bill. It is unclear when that committee will develop a funding mechanism for the House highway bill. Senate leaders are urging the House to forego developing their own funding mechanism and instead work off of the Senate's plan. This would expedite progress toward passage of a long-term measure but would also give the Senate a major advantage on such money manners, something which House leaders would be reluctant to accept.
The House Transportation Committee last week tackled 172 amendments before approving STRAA. Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) proposed an amendment that would have allowed EV charging stations and natural gas refueling infrastructure at highway rest areas. She ultimately withdrew the amendment amid strong opposition from NATSO, the National Association of Convenience Stores, Petroleum Marketers Association of America and the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America.
Of particular interest to truckstops and travel plazas, STRAA would amend the Interstate Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Pilot Program (ISRRPP) to require states to have enabling legislation before a tolling pilot project is approved. Similar to the Senate bill, it also imposes "use it or lose it" rule on state pilot projects, where states have a three-year deadline to obtain tolling approval under the pilot program, after which time the slot could be transferred to another state.
NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings commended members of the House T&I Committee for putting forth a long-term plan for the nation's highways, but expressed concern with the tolling provision.
“We appreciate the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s commitment to moving forward a multi-year bill that puts us closer to passage of a robust federal highway program,” Mullings said. “However, we don’t support tolls on existing highways. Tolls are an inefficient, counter-productive means of raising revenue for the nation's highways. As the House works to finalize legislation before the October 29 expiration of current highway law, we urge Congress to repeal the tolling pilot program.”
Tolling federal interstates is prohibited under federal law except for three states that hold slots under the ISRRPP pilot program. Missouri, North Carolina and Virginia, which currently hold pilot program slots but have been unable to implement tolls due to strong public opposition, would be given one year to receive approval under the House bill. Alternatively, USDOT may extend conditional approval by one year if substantial progress is made in their tolling efforts.
Unlike the Senate’s Drive Act put forth in July, the STRAA does not include language that would allow funds collected through tolls to be diverted to projects outside of improvements to that road. NATSO strongly prefers the House legislation in this regard, as any highway user fees should be utilized only for infrastructure improvement projects on the highway on which fees are assessed.
Although a long-term highway bill is unlikely in the near-term, the legislation that the Transportation Committee approved Oct. 22 will be a key baseline for policymakers when serious negotiations commence.
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