President Obama signed into law a two-week extension of current highway spending authority, giving lawmakers an additional two weeks to hash out a multiyear agreement.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who was named chair of the Surface Transportation Conference Committee, said elected officials aim to finalize a conference report by the first week of December and send the multi-year bill to the President’s desk by Dec. 4. Funding had been set to expire Nov. 20.
Chairman Shuster said the House and the Senate continue to make good progress in resolving their differences between their respective multi-year surface transportation proposals and that he thinks reconciliation can happen quickly.
Overall funding issues remain a sticking point for lawmakers, however, along with the duration of the reauthorization and a number of safety issues, including whether to lower the age for truck drivers. Lawmakers also are haggling over a potential renewal of the controversial Export-Import bank.
The Senate on Nov. 18 also adopted an amendment that would only allow the Secretary of Transportation to sign off on the use of twin 33-foot trailers nationwide after determining through a study that the increase would not negatively impact safety.
Both chambers have passed bills that contain at least three years of funding.
The Senate’s $350 billion version of the bill includes a proposal to reduce Federal Reserve dividend payments to member banks. The House had passed an amendment that would send an extra $40 billion to the Highway Trust Fund by drawing down the Federal Reserve’s capital surplus account. The amendment also scrapped cuts to the Federal Reserve dividend rate and an increase in the fees charged by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Of importance to truckstops and travel plazas, the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates, of which NATSO is a founding member, continues to urge conferees to accept the House language on the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program.
Similar to the Senate’s DRIVE Act, the House’s Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 imposes a 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. However, unlike the Senate bill, STRRA would amend the ISRRPP to require states to have enabling legislation before a tolling pilot project is approved. STRAA also does not contain the Senate language that would allow toll revenue collected on a particular interstate to be diverted away from that interstate and spent on unrelated projects.
"This is a perversion of the very purpose of the ISRRPP, which is supposed to fund the maintenance of an interstate using tolls collected on that particular road," ATFI said in a letter to Conferees.
ATFI said the Senate’s version would reduce public input and USDOT discretion in the approval of tolling projects.
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