Senate bill would provide $350 billion over six years for surface transportation. Photo: David Cullen

Senate bill would provide $350 billion over six years for surface transportation. Photo: David Cullen

A bipartisan effort by four key Senators led the Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee on June 24 to recommend that the full Senate consider a six-year bill that calls for spending $350 billion (including $13.5 billion for national freight-related building projects) on surface-transportation infrastructure.

The Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act (S. 1647) was introduced by Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Chairman of the EPW Committee; Barbara Boxer (D-CA), EPA Ranking Member; David Vitter (R-LA), Chairman of the EPW Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure; and Tom Carper (D-DE), senior member of the EPW Committee.

However, even if the DRIVE Act is passed by the Senate and then the House, there’s no indication yet that Capitol Hill will come up with the money to fund the measure marked up by EPW— let alone before the current legislation that funds the Highway Trust Fund expires on July 31.

On the other hand, as the EPW’s bill moves in the Senate, it may serve as a tangible outline that will help give shape to a parallel long-term funding bill. As reported by The Washington Post, a senior Senate staffer who worked on the EPW measure pointed out that “There’s a cart-and-horse issue here, and sometimes it’s better to say what you’re buying before you write the check. Our view is that you spell out a framework of what you get for the money instead of talking about everything in abstract.”

Indeed, in a statement praising Chairman Inhofe and Ranking Member Boxer for making “a good start on crafting a bipartisan six-year transportation bill,” Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx  said that EPW had “advanced the ball toward policy and funding goals that the Administration put forth in the GROW AMERICA Act, but there is still much work to be done."

Regarding that work, he contended in particular that infrastructure funding needs to be raised “to a level that will adequately address maintenance backlogs and needed expansion"

Foxx also remarked that, “Unlike last year, when progress stopped at this point, I hope that the EPW committee’s work this week is just the beginning– not the end– of actions by Congress to address America’s critical transportation issues and bring funding in line with our country’s needs."

“The DRIVE Act will provide states and local communities with the certainty they deserve to plan and construct infrastructure projects efficiently,” said Inhofe in a statement. “This bipartisan bill also contains the hallmark accomplishment of a new freight program to prioritize federal spending on the facilities that will most directly benefit our economy, in addition to prioritizing federal dollars towards bridge safety and the interstate system.”

Boxer observed that “The clock is ticking, and action in the EPW Committee is a major first step -- the other [Capitol Hill] committees also need to act” to fund the measure. “I’m certainly proud to say that we’ve come up with a workable, passable bipartisan bill that will make the necessary updates that our nation’s roads and bridges desperately need,” noted Vitter.

“In order to make the DRIVE Act a reality, we must provide full funding so that city, state and local governments have the certainty they need to make the investments we’ve outlined in this bill,” Carper stated.  “I am steadfast in my dedication to working with my colleagues in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, to find the bipartisan funding compromise Americans expect and deserve."

Originally posted on Automotive Fleet