Senate close to unveiling transportation reauthorisation act

Senator Barbara Boxer said the Senate is seeking a six-year bill, but a two-year reauthorisation is ‘in the mix’ due to funding constraints. The new bill would increase TIFIA funding to $1bn.

The US Senate is close to unveiling a $339.2 billion, six-year reauthorisation of surface transportation legislation, Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, said during a press conference this week.

Boxer, who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said the Senate does not yet have a final bill, but has “all the agreements necessary in place to write that final bill”. She said she expects to start hearings on the bill in about two weeks and have the committee make amendments to the bill before the Senate's July 4 recess.

Existing US surface transportation legislation expired in September 2009, and has been propped by up short-term extensions since then.

Boxer said the Senate is seeking to establish a six-year transportation funding plan, but also considering a two-year plan because of fiscal constraints.

“The two-year is in the mix. We are starting with a six-year, we are hoping for a six-year, but we recognize that the funding challenges  may be so that we decide to go with a two-year,” Boxer said, adding: “A lot of the changes we are putting forward we want to be authorized for six years”.

Among those changes is a substantial increase in funding for the federal government's TIFIA lending programme, which has provided low-cost, long-term loans for infrastructure projects across the country. The programme, named for the 1998 Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, has been heavily oversubscribed at its current level of $122 million per year.

Boxer said the new bill would fund TIFIA at $1 billion over six years and increase the share of project costs that can be funded by TIFIA. Currently, TIFIA can only fund up to 33 percent of a project's cost. Boxer's bill would allow TIFIA to provide up to 49 percent of a project's costs.

“To have this agreement on TIFIA is very important at a time when we have to leverage funds because we have deficit issues,” Boxer said, adding that the $1 billion in TIFIA funds could leverage up to $30 billion in private sector investment in infrastructure.

President Barack Obama proposed a $556 billion six-year transportation plan when he unveiled his 2012 budget in February.

Asked why the Senate plan is smaller than what President Obama proposed, Boxer replied:  “We said to them, 'if you can show us the money, we are happy to look at it'. But right now, there isn’t any. So we are going with what we think we can get through the United States Senate”.