The Obama Administration Proposes Scaled-Down 18-Month Highway Reauthorization

On June 17, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood asked congress to postpone action on a large-scale, five-year Highway Reauthorization Bill for the period beginning this October 1 and instead present an interim 18-month spending bill, to help infrastructure projects to get through an anticipated budget gap, and implying postponement of the more substantive or strategic decisions in transportation investment. The proposal appears to recommend something less than a full-scale reauthorization and something more than a stop-gap “interim resolution,” although it seems closer to the latter.

As Secretary LaHood puts it: “The first step is making sure that the Highway Trust Fund is solvent. The next step is addressing our transportation priorities over the long term.” The general inference is that the Secretary expects this 18-month spending bill to draw down general revenues to continue funding current or scheduled projects at existing levels and to postpone any discussion of fuel tax increases or new user-based revenue measures.

The leadership of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and its Highways & Transit Subcommittee vigorously protested this suggestion. On June 18, T&I Chairman Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minnesota) stated that delay was “unacceptable,” in that it would cast uncertainty on meaningful infrastruture reform, cause states to hold back on new projects, and-in the context of economic stimulus-would cost jobs.

Where does this conflict between the Democratic Administration and the Democratic-led Congress leave the prospects for action on gross vehicle weight reform, or specifically on The Safe and Efficient Transportation Act of 2009 (HR 1799)? On the one hand:

  • It signals a political assessment that transportation infrastructure is not a priority (compared to health care reform or broad “economic stimulus”).
  • It deflates pressure to implement creative new solutions to address the crisis in infrastructure maintenance and funding-such as those contained in HR 1799.
  • On the other hand, the Administration’s suggestion seems to reflect its desire to tone down any additional or controversial spending programs. If so:
  • The proposal plays to HR 1799’s strongest points: HR 1799 does not cost the Treasury anything.

What To Do?

Please continue to make constituent contacts with your member of Congress, urging him or her to sign on as a co-sponsor of HR 1799. Use the electronic action call module for HR 1799 at to contact your own member of congress. The module presents a customizable e-mail urging cosponsorship of HR 1799. Click the “Take Action” link, select “Ask Congress to Support Safe and Efficient Transportation Act, HR 1799,” register at your home address, and take your views to the Hill! Increasing the number of co-sponsors is crucial in building momentum to support HR 1799.

Alternatively, phone the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, and ask to be connected to your Representative’s office. Be sure to have your talking points ready!

If you need more background, please consult the resources at <>.

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