Congress Punts Transportation Until the Fall

Margo PedrosoAfter weeks of work, the Senate passed the DRIVE Act today to reauthorize transportation policy and funding, on a vote of 65-34.  However, the House of Representatives has forced the Senate’s hand into accepting a three-month extension of current law.

Since last Friday’s update, the Senate moved forward with a series of votes on DRIVE Act amendments unrelated to transportation and made modifications to the underlying bill as negotiations continued.  Most notably, the Complete Streets amendment that Senators Schatz (D-HI), Heller (R-NH) and Markey (D-MA) championed was added back into the final package.  This language will ensure that the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians are addressed in all phases—planning, design and implementation—of federally funded transportation projects.  No further amendments were considered, meaning that the improvements to the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) that Senators Cochran (R-MS) and Cardin (D-MD) fought for have been sustained (i.e. the increase in funding to $850M/year, elimination of state transfers, shifting all funding into the “population pot” to maximize local control, making nonprofits eligible and lowering regulatory burden.)

Even though the Senate has now passed the DRIVE Act, the House refused to consider the legislation as there was not time to negotiate over provisions.  Instead, the House passed a three-month extension of current law and policy, through October, which the Senate then passed as well.

After several weeks of intense focus on the Senate, we will now be shifting our primary efforts back to the House of Representatives.  We will be advocating to strengthen TAP even more than the Senate bill did, as well as to give states with strong Safe Routes to School programs flexibility on use of TAP money for those purposes. We will also support efforts to include Complete Streets language in the House bill and to increase local control in other transportation programs besides TAP.

House leadership has said that they will use the three-month extension to write their own transportation policy bill and identify their own funding sources through tax reform.  This may be a tall order, given that both the House and Senate will be spending August back in their districts—leaving little time to settle on policy and get agreement between the differing House and Senate approaches.

Even so—for the first time—it does appear that both the House and Senate are now on the same timeframe, determined to get resolution on a long-term transportation bill and funding by year’s end.