Senate Highway Bill Released

Bipartisan Transportation Bill Released as Infrastructure Debate Continues

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
A key piece of a major infrastructure plan could advance on Wednesday after senators released a bi-partisan plan to fund highway projects over the next five years. The bill includes several provisions to help address highway and bridge challenges in rural states. (DTN file photo by Matt Wilde)

WASHINGTON, (DTN) -- In what looks like a bipartisan breakthrough in the infrastructure debate, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday will mark up a bill that would increase funding by at least one-third over the next five years.

Key leaders of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Saturday released a bipartisan bill to reauthorize surface transportation programs while President Joe Biden's efforts to reach a bipartisan effort on his larger infrastructure proposal appears to be giving way to a Democrat-only bill.

The bill was released by Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del.; Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W. Va., the committee's ranking member; EPW Transportation Infrastructure Subcommittee Chairman Ben Cardin, D-Md.; and Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., the subcommittee ranking member. The group said it will be marked up by the EPW Committee on Wednesday.

The Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021 sets a new baseline funding level at a historic high of $303.5 billion for Transportation Department programs for highways, roads, and bridges. This marks an increase of more than 34% from the last reauthorization to pass Congress, the FAST Act, in 2015.

The prior authorization for surface transportation programs expired in 2020; Congress passed a one-year extension that will expire on September 30, 2021.

"We must reauthorize the surface transportation bill before its current authorization expires in September: it is a vital foundation for President Biden's American Jobs Plan," Carper said in a news release. "I look forward to continuing to work to transform our nation's infrastructure and equip our economy for the future."

Cramer said the proposal is the "largest surface transportation reauthorization package in history." Cramer added, "Like any successful collaborative effort, neither side got everything they want, but I am glad we were able to find common ground and put forward a bipartisan plan to rebuild and revive America's roads and bridges.

"Our bill contains high levels of support for rural communities, ensures resources are distributed in an equitable fashion using the current funding formula, significantly reduces bureaucratic regulations which prevent projects from being progressing in a timely manner, and provides states with flexibility to implement federal guidance," Cramer said.

Among the provisions in the bill, one section allows states to expand the number of miles for "critical rural freight corridors" from 150 miles to 300 miles. It also provides more flexibility for low-population-density states to expand their critical freight corridors to up to 600 miles.

The bill also established a "Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success Council," or ROUTES Council, to address needs for rural areas and tribes. Another program provides $25 million grants and increased federal cost share for a rural grant program.

Addressing Biden's larger infrastructure plan, the White House on Friday dropped the price of Biden's infrastructure bill from $2.25 trillion to $1.7 trillion in a move that officials view as the next step in the ongoing talks over the package, CNN reported.

But Republicans are objecting both to the cost of Biden's proposal and to his broad definition of infrastructure.

On Sunday, Cedir Richmond, a White House senior adviser, told CNN Biden "wants a deal."

"He wants it soon, but if there's meaningful negotiations taking place in a bipartisan manner, he's willing to let that play out," Richmond said. "But again, he will not let inaction be the answer. And when he gets to the point where it looks like that is inevitable, you'll see him change course."

Section by-section breakdown of Senate transportation bill:…

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Jerry Hagstrom