We’re Still Living in the SAFETEA-LU Era For Three More Months

Something that escaped my attention until recently is the fact that MAP-21 is really only a 24-month transportation bill. Folded into the bill is an extension of SAFETEA-LU for another three months, until September 30 — the end of this fiscal year.

The bill was signed into law last Friday and it expires September 30, 2014, so when people call it a 27-month bill, technically that’s true, although most of the changes to policy and funding levels won’t take effect until the next fiscal year. “That doesn’t mean the impacts and implications of pending policy changes can’t be considered and prepared for immediately,” said one Capitol Hill aide.

And it doesn’t mean those changes won’t outlive those 24 months. Authorization for specific programs only lasts 24 months, but the policy changes become baseline transportation law on a permanent basis. If a new law doesn’t explicitly change these provisions, they stay as they are in this bill. Besides, who really thinks the next transportation bill is going to be passed before this one expires without requiring a string of extensions? MAP-21 could be with us for a while.

Another aide commented that three months’ lead time is necessary to allow U.S. DOT to put out new regulations and prepare for the changes.

So in case you were counting: If you add up all the extensions of SAFETEA-LU, including the one-week extension to get MAP-21 enrolled on parchment for the president to sign, and then the three-month extension included within MAP-21, that’s 11 extensions. No wonder it ran out Transportation for America’s countdown clock.