The U.S. House voted 372-52 Friday to pass a longer-term reauthorization of funding for transportation and infrastructure programs. This was followed by a Senate vote of 74-19 for passage. The transportation and infrastructure funding bill reauthorizes, through the end of fiscal year 2014, the surface transportation programs administered by the Federal-Aid Highway Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and certain programs administered by the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Administration.
Other major provisions in the legislation include:
- Streamlining the environmental review process, which should speed the permitting of transportation projects.
- Requiring “transportation enhancements” such as bike paths and pedestrian safety measures to compete for funding with other transportation programs.
- Reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) through 2017 and increasing premiums for some subsidized policies.
- Reducing mandatory payments to states that have completed certain reclamation projects on land formerly used for mining.
- Retaining an interest rate of 3.4 percent on all new subsidized student loans until June 30, 2013, and change the interest the federal government pays on behalf of some borrowers who are attending school.
- Raising additional revenue by increasing the ability of businesses with excess assets in their pension funds to use them for retiree health and life insurance benefits, and by defining businesses that make roll-your-own machines available for consumer use as tobacco manufacturers.
During negotiations, provisions authorizing the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline and loosening regulations on coal ash were dropped.
Congress has approved nine extensions since the last comprehensive transportation plan ended in Sept. 2009, creating uncertainty in the transportation construction industry. “The two-year extension of federal transportation programs is going to provide some certainty for transportation projects across the country and hopefully a much needed boost in construction employment,” says John McClelland, American Rental Association (ARA) vice president of government affairs. “The increased activity in highway, transit and related construction projects also is likely to provide an increase in opportunities for equipment rental companies to rent more equipment and by extension purchase more equipment and hire more workers. The bipartisan agreement that passed Congress today is a welcome sign which ARA fully supports.”