Deja Vu: Congress Could Put Off Deal on Transport Bill Until Next Month

After a day of twists and turns, the House yesterday approved a three-month extension of the current law that governs spending on the nation's transit, bridges, and roads. Yet the 335-85 vote obscures an ongoing clash between the House and Senate that could extend into a fourth straight month.

59a_confusing_road_signs.jpg(Image: East Bay R.E.)

House transportation committee chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) and most members on his side of the Capitol contend that a three-month extension is needed to spur an agreement on a long-term infrastructure bill before year's end.

But given Senate Democrats' preference for an 18-month delay, the two chambers soon could add a one-month extension of existing transport law to the spending bill that Congress must pass by next week to keep the government funded.

Such a move would effectively postpone until October 30 the deadline for the House and Senate to reach an agreement. Oberstar, speaking on the House floor yesterday, was unmoved by the Senate and White House's call for a long delay in reforming transportation spending.

The difficult decisions that we face today will not be any easier in 18 months, and the American people will pay the price for our inaction through lost jobs, decreased mobility, diminished productivity, and continued high levels of traffic fatalities and injuries.

Republicans split their votes on the three-month extension after their leaders chose to oppose the bill, protesting the mere possibility that a federal gas tax increase could be debated as a funding mechanism for Oberstar's six-year, $500 billion transportation plan. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) accused Oberstar of trying to "buy time to bring the parties together to the table to agree on a gas tax [increase]."

Outside of Washington, construction companies and state DOTs say that uncertain federal funding is slowing down some massive -- and environmentally questionable -- road projects. For example, the Missouri DOT is reportedly in limbo on its $3.5 billion plan to widen I-70 between St. Louis and Kansas City to accommodate truck-only lanes, a project that has drawn criticism from the Sierra Club and other green groups.