Congress extends highway authorization

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Congress on Thursday, March 3, passed a long-term extension of the surface transportation authorization, ensuring that the federal government will continue to fund infrastructure and safety programs through the end of September.

“Nothing is more critical to our members than highway safety,” says Bill Graves, president and chief executive officer of the American Trucking Association. “This legislation will ensure that funding for important safety and enforcement programs, not to mention needed highway improvements, will continue unabated through the end of the current fiscal year. As a former governor, I am acutely aware of how important it is for states to have a stable source of funding for their highway and safety programs.”

Graves thanked all the members of Congress who supported the extension and urged President Obama to quickly sign it into law. “However, this stopgap is no excuse for a real long-term highway bill that adequately addresses our need for improved highways to move the nation’s food, fuel, medicine and other essential goods,” he says.

Obama last month proposed a $129 billion budget proposal for the U.S. Department of Transportation, the first year of a six-year transportation plan. The budget proposal consolidates DOT programs, institutes government reforms and cuts red tape; more than 55 separate highway programs would be streamlined into five core programs to eliminate overlap.

The administration’s six-year proposal would provide $336 billion, a 48 percent increase over the previous authorization, to rebuild roads and bridges, and $119 billion, a 128 percent increase over the previous authorization, in funding for sustainable and efficient transit options.

The budget would establish a National Infrastructure Bank that would leverage private capital to build complex large-scale projects that hold significant economic benefits to a region or the nation as a whole. A new competitive incentive program, called the Transportation Leadership Awards, would reward unique projects that find new ways to connect people to opportunities and products to markets. And to promote DOT’s safety efforts, the budget also would provide $50 million for the department’s ongoing campaign against distracted driving, as well as $35 million to promote seatbelt use and combat drunk drivers.

The Senate’s approval of the extension on Thursday, March 3, followed the House’s approval of legislation to extend highway funding for the next seven months. The extension now heads to President Obama’s desk for his signature.