The House of Representatives on Oct. 16 unveiled a six-year, $325 billion highway bill with just two weeks remaining until the current extension to highway funding law is set to expire. It is a companion bill to the Senate's Drive Act passed in July.
It is unlikely that both chambers will be able to iron out differences between the two bills before current highway legislation expires at the end of October. As a result, although the House legislation is a crucial step in the process, NATSO expects at least one more temporary highway bill to be enacted before Congress is able to pass long-term legislation.
The House Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 (STRRA) would spend $261 billion on highways, $55 billion on transit and $9 billion on safety. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is scheduled to mark up the legislation Oct. 22.
NATSO currently is reviewing the 543-page bill. Initial review shows several key items of interest to truckstops and travel plazas, including interstate tolling and truck parking.
Specifically, STRRA 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.
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, under the House bill.
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. However, NATSO believes the tolling pilot program should be repealed entirely, as tolls are an inefficient, counter-productive means of raising revenue for the nation's highways.
Additionally, the STRRA would make certain truck parking facilities eligible for the Surface Transportation Block Grant program. The draft bill would also reauthorize hazardous materials programs and establish a new national finance bureau for significant freight and highway projects.
In terms of a path forward, House Speaker John Boehner’s recent announcement that he is resigning from Congress initially generated a new sense of urgency among lawmakers to pass a highway bill. But political jockeying for his position could ultimately hinder the ability of the House and Senate to conference their respective highway bills this year. NATSO believes that the odds for passage of a long-term highway bill would only diminish next year, as the presidential election race heats up.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), who has been pushing tax reform as a means of funding highway infrastructure, is being urged to run for the position. Rep. Ryan’s reluctance to seek the position, however, has paralyzed the business of the House.
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