Fledgling highway bill advances in Senate

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A Senate committee in the past week introduced what’s being billed as the “most substantial highway legislation in history” — a five-year, $278 billion package to succeed 2015’s FAST Act. The Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee cleared the bill, dubbed as of now the America’s Transportation and Infrastructure Act of 2019, by a vote of 21-0 on Tuesday.

However, absent from the bill currently are two key elements: Funding mechanisms and policies.

The Senate’s Finance Committee will be tasked with finding funding avenues, and the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will formulate the policy measures.

Likewise, the Democrat-controlled House will likely advance its own highway bill, which may force members of Congress to enter into a conference committee to work out differences between the two bills.

The FAST Act expires next December, meaning lawmakers have just 18 months to flesh out the bill’s policies and find a way to pay for it.

In addition to securing long-term funding for highway projects outside of Congress’ annual budget process, highway bills also are an avenue for lawmakers to enact reforms, update public policy and generally steer the direction of regulatory action by the U.S. DOT.

The current law, the FAST Act, was signed by President Obama in December 2015 — a five-year bill that included policy riders like pulling CSA scores from public view and requiring FMCSA to reform the carrier safety rating program, opening the door for carriers to use hair sample testing to satisfy driver drug screening requirements and called for FMCSA to set up a pilot program 

You may remember, too, that the highway bill before that, 2012’s MAP-21, instituted the ELD mandate and Jason’s Law, a set of measures meant to call the DOT’s attention to the inadequate truck parking landscape across the country.