MAP-21 maintains current funding for surface transportation programs at $54.5 billion per year. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that MAP-21 will reduce the federal deficit by $5.9 billion over five years and $6.9 billion over ten years. The bill consolidates federal highway programs, accelerates project approval timelines, and increases funding for project loan and discretionary funding programs. Efforts to eliminate funding for biking and pedestrian programs failed, though the bill increases funding flexibility, making the programs vulnerable. Public transportation funding is maintained at $10.5 billion annually, with increased focus on repairing aging transit systems. Further details can be found in EESI's bill analysis from last month.
With the Senate bill approved, attention now turns back to the House of Representatives. The House transportation bill (H.R. 7), which seemed on track in parallel to the Senate bill one month ago, has fallen into disarray. The five-year bill could not garner enough support because competing factions of the House opposed different aspects of the bill. Controversial provisions include approval of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and off-shore, increasing federal employees’ payments to their pension funds, and elimination of dedicated federal funding for public transportation programs.
Public transportation funding has since been restored in the bill due to pressure from centrist Republicans led by Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-OH), but widespread opposition to H.R. 7 continues from all sides. House leadership has admitted they do not see a clear path forward on their bill. There are increasing indications that they may elect to scrap the existing bill and vote on the Senate’s now-passed transportation bill, which enjoyed much more bipartisan support. In this scenario, the House would likely add several amendments to the bill, leaving some room to negotiate the shape of the final bill that would be sent to Presidential Obama.
The current extension of surface transportation funding ends at the end of the month. If the House does not move swiftly on a near copy of the Senate bill, the immediate need becomes passage of a ninth short-term extension of the previous authorization bill. The length of such an extension would show how close Congress believes itself to be near a final agreement.