Deja Vu: Congress Could Put Off Deal on Transport Bill Until Next Month

After a day of
twists and turns, the House yesterday approved a three-month extension
of the current law that governs spending on the nation’s transit,
bridges, and roads. Yet the 335-85 vote obscures an ongoing clash between the House and Senate that could extend into a fourth straight month.

59a_confusing_road_signs.jpg(Image: East Bay R.E.)

House
transportation committee chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) and most members
on his side of the Capitol contend that a three-month extension is
needed to spur an agreement on a long-term infrastructure bill before
year’s end.

But given Senate Democrats’ preference for an
18-month delay, the two chambers soon could add a one-month extension
of existing transport law to the spending bill that Congress must pass by next week to keep the government funded.

Such
a move would effectively postpone until October 30 the deadline for the
House and Senate to reach an agreement. Oberstar, speaking on the House
floor yesterday, was unmoved by the Senate and White House’s call for a
long delay in reforming transportation spending.

The difficult decisions
that we face today will not be any easier in 18 months, and the
American people will pay the price for our inaction through lost jobs,
decreased mobility, diminished productivity, and continued high levels
of traffic fatalities and injuries.

Republicans
split their votes on the three-month extension after their leaders
chose to oppose the bill, protesting the mere possibility that a
federal gas tax increase could be debated as a funding mechanism for
Oberstar’s six-year, $500 billion transportation plan. House Minority
Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) accused Oberstar of trying to "buy time to
bring the parties together to the table to agree on a gas tax
[increase]."

Outside of Washington, construction companies
and state DOTs say that uncertain federal funding is slowing down some
massive — and environmentally questionable — road projects. For
example, the Missouri DOT is reportedly in limbo on its $3.5 billion plan to widen I-70 between St. Louis and Kansas City to accommodate truck-only lanes, a project that has drawn criticism from the Sierra Club and other green groups.