Not all the news out of Washington DC last week came from the Supreme Court: History was also made Friday when Congress passed the Transportation Bill presenting the first long-term funding authorization since 2005. Our staff was in DC on Thursday to stay close to the deal and thank legislators for their action on our coalition’s #1 priority. Nine members of our Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition spent the day meeting with offices of Great Lakes transportation bill conferees and their staffs, many of whom had been intimately involved in crafting the final bill.
The bill passed the House by a vote of 373-52 and was then passed minutes later by the Senate with a vote of 79-14. Republicans from both chambers cast “nay” votes. See how your members voted: House | Senate.
Our coalition worked hard advocating for passage of a long-term comprehensive transportation bill along with specific coalition priorities. Members were engaged in getting support for amendments, increasing the number of sponsors or signers for key provisions and letters of support and educating members on our priorities. We were part of a larger effort and our efforts paid off!
This reauthorization, while not a 5 or 6 year deal (as we'd hoped), does run for 27 months which is much better than another short-term extension because it will provide states with more certainty in planning road and transit construction projects.
In addition, we made significant progress on two of our coalition’s priorities:
The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) fix language, while lacking an enforcement mechanism, is included in the final bill and is the strongest ever endorsement from Congress for spending all of the HMTF revenues on their intended purpose. Our coalition will be closely monitoring the funding levels this year so that the actual appropriations, which come later, comport with the new language.
Reports also indicate that the new bill will reduce the average time it takes to complete a highway project by streamlining administrative processes and consolidating a variety of programs, consistent with our coalition's goals for more efficiency and flexibility. We applaud these efforts and look forward to learning more from the language in the final bill.
Much of the deal was determined in the final hours of negotiations: Republicans dropped their demands to piggyback onto the bill approval for the Keystone oil pipeline and relaxation of proposed restrictions on coal ash produced by power plants. In return, Democrats gave up on $1.4 billion for conservation and agreed to allow states more leeway in the way they use money that once was mandated for landscaping, bike improvements and pedestrian walkways.
This critical issue is a journey, not a destination, and our Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition will now look to implementation and to the longer term policy and funding issues surrounding surface transportation.