Brief Update on Highway Bill from IWLA Washington Representative

hwy bill lowFunding for highway transportation projects expires this Friday, Nov. 20. The U.S. House and Senate conferees appointed to hash out the differences between the chambers’ contrasting highway funding measures had originally hoped to get a bill to President Barack Obama before Thanksgiving — or maybe even this Friday –  but the House just announced that it will vote to extend federal transportation funding for another two weeks (until Dec. 4). Lawmakers hope this funding patch provides time for them to finish work on a longer, multiyear infrastructure bill.

Both chambers have passed highway bills that contain at least three years of guaranteed transportation funding, but lawmakers are still haggling over a potential bicameral agreement on the disparate measures. The House-approved highway bill calls for spending up to $261 billion on highways and $55 billion on transit over six years. The legislation authorizes highway funding for six years, but only includes enough money to pay for the first three of them. The Senate passed a similar piece of legislation that also contained three years’ worth of guaranteed highway funding.

These are among the issues that need to be reconciled: The House and the Senate hit up the Federal Reserve in different ways for highway funding, though the House approach would offset more years of infrastructure spending. Lawmakers have sounded optimistic notes about their ability to meld the two measures, but transportation advocates are wary because it has been 10 years since Congress has passed an infrastructure bill that lasts longer than two years.

Hinting that safety proposals for the multiyear transportation plan could be a deal breaker for some senators, 13 of the chamber’s Democrats sent a letter asking their chamber’s leaders to “prevent any rollback of safety or consumer protections” during conference negotiations. Here are some of the larger sticking points raised by the group:

  • Larger Trailers – The trucking industry, along with FedEx and UPS, are pushing for a federal mandate that would force all states to allow trucks with extra-long double trailers on interstate highways. The issue wasn’t raised in either the House or Senate bill. Safety advocates worry that negotiators will add such a mandate to a final version.
  • Recalled Cars – Used-car dealers are feuding with safety advocates over whether the dealers should have to repair recalled vehicles before selling them. A provision would require rental car companies to make repairs before renting vehicles, but used-car dealers are not included. Also, the House bill would let new-car dealers loan cars to customers without making repairs. New-car dealers already must repair vehicles before selling them.
  • Auto Safety – Safety advocates object to many proposals, among them one that would reduce the age for interstate truck drivers from 21 to 18 in some cases. They also want more money for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) following two years of record vehicle recalls for safety defects, including faulty General Motor ignition switches linked to 124 deaths. The House bill cuts NHTSA’s money despite congressional testimony that the agency lacks enough investigators to pursue all the information it receives on possible defects.

IWLA will keep you informed of any new developments.

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