US Senate committee approves Highway Bill

By Helen Wright15 November 2011

A US Senate committee has approved a two-year, US$ 109 billion highway funding plan that would continue spending at current levels.

The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) committee gave the green light to the bipartisan Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Bill - legislation that would reduce the number of federal highway transportation programmes by about two-thirds from 90 down to less than 30.

In order to achieve this, five core highway programmes have been introduced, down from seven in the previous legislation - a move which allow the Bill to "to focus resources on key national goals and reduce duplicative programmes".

For example, one of the new core programmes is the National Highway Performance programme, which consolidates the existing Interstate Maintenance, National Highway System, and Highway Bridge programmes to create a single new programme.

Another new core programme is the Transportation Mobility programme, which replaces the current Surface Transportation plan, but retains the same structure, while the new National Freight Network programme consolidates existing programmes into a new focused highway freight programme.

Efficiency improvements

The Bill also includes legislation to reduce project delivery time and cost, for instance by reducing bureaucratic hurdles for projects with no significant environmental impact and encouraging early coordination between relevant agencies to avoid delays later in the review process.

President and CEO of the Association of Leaders in Equipment Distribution (AED) Toby Mack said the decision had been a long time coming. The US's transportation program has been funded through a series of continuing resolutions for two years, with the latest set to expire on 31 March next year.

"The committee's approval is an important first step in a long process that is, unfortunately, years behind schedule. Time is running out on the most recent highway extension. We therefore urge the Senate Finance Committee to act swiftly to identify the additional resources necessary to pay for MAP-21 and urge the House to make parallel legislation a top priority between now and the end of the year," Mr Mack said.

The Bill must still overcome several hurdles before becoming law, not least finding an additional US$ 12 billion in funding to make up for the gap between revenues generated by the Highway Trust Fund and current investment levels.

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