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Fire Dog Lake—Long-Term Surface Transportation Bill Unlikely Before Election

By Admin

 [As posted by David Dayen on Fire Dog Lake]

Late last week, the President signed a 90-day surface transportation extension, the ninth of his Presidency. This is getting to the point where we have to look at the failure to deliver a long-term transportation bill as an impediment to economic recovery.

Think about the typical scenario. You’re a municipality that wants to build a new highway to connect to a growing edge suburb. Or you want a new light rail system to drive people to downtown and the new convention center. But these are long-term projects. You have to be secure in the knowledge that financing will stay in place through the life of the project, or else you end up with a half-formed rail line to nowhere that becomes the signature image from the opposition in your re-election campaign. A natural political conservatism sets in if the funding cannot be guaranteed, and the ambitious plans get scaled back.

This has probably happened dozens of times during these nine short-term extensions. Heck, even a two-year bill, which the Senate passed, doesn’t allow for that much certainty; previous transportation bills have stretched four years or more. Federal participation in surface transportation funding has simply not been predictable for almost three years. And that makes it nearly impossible for local agencies to plan ahead. Now we learn that this will probably be the reality for another year.
Transportation advocates are losing hope for passage of a highway bill before the election following Congress’s decision this week to pass another short-term funding extension.

Instead of approving the multi-year transportation bill that passed the Senate, lawmakers adopted a temporary extension of legislation that already funds road and transit projects. The short-term measure, signed Friday by President Obama, extends federal transportation funding until June 30 […]

AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD) President Edward Wytkind told The Hill he does not see the political dynamic changing before the extension expires in 90 days.

“We’re hedging our bets that the House is going to get anything done, so I went out and got a lotto ticket and I’m publicly announcing that I’ll donate any winnings to transportation,” Wytkind said on Friday. “That may be our best hope for transportation policy at this point, at least for the next couple of weeks.”

Wytkind did not win the lottery.

The worst-case scenario would be a couple more three-month extensions that pushes the deadline into the lame duck session. There are already a host of massive issues to be decided at that time, and the surface transportation bill would simply get lost in the shuffle, or used as another bargaining chip in a bad compromise. But that’s the path it appears we’re headed down.