March 30, 2012

UPDATED: Congress passes 90-day extension of transportation bill

**UPDATE: On Friday, President Barack Obama signed the 90-day extension that was approved earlier by both the House and Senate. At the end of the story is a statement from American Public Transportation Association (APTA) President/CEO Michael Melaniphy.

Following the U.S. House of Representatives’ 266 to 158 vote to approve a 90-day extension of the current surface transportation law governing federal transit and highway programs, the Senate approved the extension by unanimous consent. Both Houses of the U.S. Congress are scheduled to leave for a two-week district work period that begins Friday.

The bill, which would extend SAFETEA-LU and the collection of motor fuels taxes that are deposited in the Highway Trust Fund through June 30, 2012, is expected to be signed by President Barack Obama.

Democrats in both chambers had voiced strong opposition to another extension and urged the House to take up and pass H.R. 14, the House version of S. 1813 (MAP-21), the Senate-passed bill that modifies and extends transit and highway programs through the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. House Republican leaders have opposed the Senate’s two-year bill and pushed for a 90-day extension that gives them time to redraft and build support for passage of their own five-year bill.

House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee Republican staff have stated that a revised five-year House bill will differ from the earlier version in that it will preserve current law under which a specific portion of motor fuels tax revenues are deposited into the Mass Transit Account (MTA) of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) and dedicated to programs administered by the Federal Transit Administration.

“The House will continue working toward passing a long-term transportation reform bill that reduces the size of government, streamlines the project approval process, provides flexibility for states to fund their priorities, eliminates earmarks, and is fully paid for,” said T&I Chairman John L. Mica.

Staff has also said that the revised House bill will preserve the existing MTA, which funds FTA programs, and return the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program and other current Federal Highway Administration programs to the Highway Account of the HTF.

“While we are disappointed that Congress was unable to pass a transportation bill before the end of the current extension, the action taken today in the U.S. House will at least prevent a disruption of the federal transportation program and ensure millions of Americans continue to work by building and repairing our roads, bridges and transit systems,” said Transportation for America Director James Corless. “We now urge House leaders to reach across the aisle to create a bipartisan measure that can find the broad support typical of past transportation bills, as well as the Senate’s current bill.”

In response to the 90-day extension, Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) Executive Director Joseph G. Costello said the following:

“Today, the U.S. House of Representatives voted against transportation funding certainty and long-term job growth by approving a short-term ‘extension’ that defers important decisions,” he said. “Millions of transit riders and commuters across northeastern Illinois will pay the price. Without a multi-year bill, mass transit and highway officials can’t bond critically needed repairs and upgrades — just as the summer construction season arrives. The result will be more delays and slow zones for Metra and El riders, more congestion on expressways and longer commutes for everyone.”

Costello reiterated the RTA’s support for the U.S. Senate’s recently-passed, bipartisan surface transportation bill — Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21). While not perfect, Costello said that bill had the following provisions which are vital to the long-term health of Illinois’ transit system.

**UPDATED: In a statement late Friday, APTA President/CEO Michael Melaniphy released the following statement:

“The American Public Transportation Association commends Congress on approving an extension of the surface transportation law and commends President Obama for signing this 90-day extension into law. Now our congressional leaders need to make sure that a long-term surface transportation bill passes and reaches the President’s desk before the June 30 deadline.

Passage of this transportation extension has given our elected officials the time to work out differences and find a solution. The surface transportation bill is now 2 ½ years overdue and it is time to come to the table and pass this important legislation.

We look forward to working with the House in a bipartisan manner to develop a surface transportation authorization bill that preserves funding and dedicated revenues for public transportation.

APTA is encouraging its members to meet with their congressional representatives while they are in their home districts from March 30 through April 15.”

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