Key senators promise long-term highway bill, current funding levels

Boxer-press-conferenceSenate transportation leaders from both sides of the aisle stood together Thursday to announce they’ve reached an agreement “in principle” on a highway bill, though figuring out how to pay for their plan will be left to others.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, was joined by Sen. David Vitter, ranking member of the committee, along with Sen. Tom Carper, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee and ranking member Sen. John Barrasso for the press conference outlining their plan to reauthorize Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21, the surface transportation spending package that is set to expire at the end of September.

“The reason the four of us are standing here is to send a strong signal to this country that we, as leaders of this committee, have worked across party lines to act before the Highway Trust Fund cannot pay its bills,” Boxer said. “For those of you who follow this issue, you know that the Highway Trust Fund is expected to run out of money later this summer, which would be devastating to thousands of businesses and millions of workers across the country.”

The key priorities on which the senators have agreed, according to Boxer, are:

  • Passing a long-term bill, as opposed to “a short-term patch;”
  • Maintaining the formulas for existing core programs;
  • Promoting fiscal responsibility by keeping current levels of funding, plus inflation;
  • Focusing on policies that expand opportunities for rural areas;
  • Continuing our efforts to leverage local resources to accelerate the construction of transportation projects, create jobs, and spur economic growth; and
  • Requiring better information sharing regarding federal grants.

Both Boxer and Vitter noted the importance of passing a bill this summer, as the trust fund – derived from the federal tax on gasoline and diesel – runs out of money, possibly as early as July.

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Boxer has pushed for moving the fuel tax from the pump to the wholesale level.

Vitter encouraged members of the Senate Commerce and Banking committees to therefore act quickly to develop a long-term funding plan to support the principles outlined by his committee.

“This is nonpartisan and this is critical for all of our constituents and for our economy,” Vitter said. “Having a good robust highway infrastructure is a key part of the backbone of the economy, and we all support doing that in a responsible, open and transparent way. And the detailed outline of transportation policy that we have developed that’s being turned into legislative language now does just that.”

Boxer vowed to keep “the promise” President Eisenhower made to the American people when he established the federal Interstate highway network, “that we will always have a strong national transportation system.”

“At a time when 70,000 of our nation’s bridges are structurally deficient and less than 50 percent of our roads are in good condition, we must act, and that is what we intend to do,” Boxer said.