Congress passes six-month surface transportation extension

Existing US surface transportation legislation expired in 2009 and has survived on short-term extensions since. Yesterday, the US Senate passed a House proposal to extend the legislation for the eighth time.

The Senate passed yesterday a proposal by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chair John Mica to extend the legislation governing surface transportation funding through to the end of March.

The legislation, which now must be signed into law by US President Barack Obama, marks the eighth time that Congress has extended the 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), which expired in 2009.

The most recent short-term extension of SAFETEA-LU was set to expire on September 30.

Last month, Obama urged Congressional leaders to come to an agreement on a “clean” extension, so as to avoid a costly shutdown such as occurred with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) earlier this year. The two-week lapse in FAA funding caused thousands of workers to be furloughed and caused the federal government to lose millions of dollars daily in unrecoverable tax revenue, US Transport Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.

The measure passed yesterday also extends FAA funding for four months.

Mica, a Florida Republican, had previously said he opposed using another short-term extension on surface transportation spending, but said he would be willing to consider one further extension.

The House and the Senate have proposed apparently irreconcilable plans for a long-term reauthorisation of US surface transportation spending. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chair Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, has advocated a two-year, $109 billion plan, while Mica has suggested a six-year plan that would provide $230 billion.

While the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee had initially passed a four-month extension, Boxer praised the six-month plan because it provides “more certainty to the private sector and to states and local governments in their plans for road and transportation projects”, according to a statement.