Highway and airport construction projects should escape shutdowns now that House and Senate leaders have agreed to extend airport construction funding through January and highway funding through March.
Without the extensions, most Federal Aviation Administration funding would expire on Sept. 16 and highway spending would end on Sept. 30.
“We’re very pleased. They’ve produced a good result and done a service to the country, particularly given the jobs situation,” said Jack Basso, director of program finance and management for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
The draft legislation provides $20 billion for federal aid to highway projects, $4.2 billion for transit, and $1.8 billion for FAA airport grants, according to an analysis by AASHTO. Those are essentially the same spending levels as in the fiscal 2011 budget, pro-rated for six and four months.
The combined extensions also would include authority to collect federal gasoline taxes and airline passenger ticket taxes, which pay for the aid programs. There is no provision for retroactive pay to FAA workers furloughed this summer.
The bill is also a clean extension with no policy changes that would provoke a stalemate. After the partisan rancor over FAA funding, which triggered a two-week partial shutdown in July, that comes as a relief to the transportation community.
The extension of highway aid will allow state and local officials to move ahead on some projects. “Six months at current funding does let states start to move some things,” Basso said, while adding that the lack of a full-year or multi-year bill will still hold back longer-term projects.
Airports find themselves in the same situation. “It’s better than where we thought we were headed; it’s not where we want to be,” said Jane Calderwood, vice president for government and political affairs at the Airports Council International-North America.
The deal involves some compromise. Republicans accepted spending on bicycle and pedestrian projects, which they had wanted to eliminate. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, approved the agreement but his more conservative members have been demanding spending cuts to temporary extensions of programs.
For their part, Democrats accepted about $3 billion less in highway aid contracting authority for the Department of Transportation. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee called the reduction a red flag. “While this does not impact spending levels at this time,” she said, “I intend to do everything to keep the next multi-year transportation bill at current levels of funding.”
The House multi-year surface transportation bill proposed by Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., cut highway spending by about 30%. Congress-watchers say the six-month extension for surface transportation versus four months for aviation reflects that it will be more difficult for lawmakers to agree on a long-term highway bill.
The House is expected to vote on the extension bill Tuesday. The scenario is to have a single vote in each house on the combined extensions to reduce the floor time needed to get them passed and avoid a shutdown in either program, said one industry source who did not want to be identified.