[As posted by Kathryn Wolfe in Politico]
Transportation and infrastructure funding has been in the spotlight post-Hurricane Sandy — but actually finding the money to invest in the nation’s roads, rails and bridges is another matter. The enormous open question is whether lawmakers can eventually find a solution to dwindling gas tax receipts needed to shore up the Highway Trust Fund.
THREE AREAS TO WATCH
TRANSPORTATION BILL: Congress partially resolved the difficulties on the last transportation bill by making it unusually short — just two years. That means the bill will again expire at the end of 2014, during the 113th Congress. As before, the most pitched battle will be fought over how and where lawmakers can find more money to shore up flagging gas tax receipts.
Outlook: Congress will eventually pass a transportation bill, but what its financing mechanisms might look like and how many extensions it might take is anyone’s guess.
AMTRAK: The last bill that authorized Amtrak, enacted in 2008, is set to expire. Prior to that bill, Amtrak hadn’t been reauthorized for many years. House Republicans in particular are expected to take another run at privatizing Amtrak, likely as part of the reauthorization — even though they had to pull back from an earlier attempt after a significant backlash.
Outlook: In recent years Amtrak has operated without an active authorization perhaps more often than it’s had one, and allowing the current authorization to expire doesn’t carry any dire consequences. If conservatives want to put privatization on the table as part of the bill, it might be a heavy lift.
WRDA: The Water Resources Development Act, which allows members of Congress to set water infrastructure repair and construction priorities for the Army Corps of Engineers, is also up for reauthorization. It’s typically a contentious bill, mostly due to dissatisfaction with the way the Army Corps operates, but it’s made even more complicated this cycle by the strictures imposed by the current earmark ban.
Outlook: The last WRDA bill had to be enacted by overriding a presidential veto; President George W. Bush was unhappy with the dollar figure attached to the bill. But what enabled the override — project authorizations — may be what makes the bill difficult to get through Congress this time around, because of the earmark ban.
FIVE KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH
Next year Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) will ascend to the ranking spot on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, where he will be responsible for writing the all-important highway spending title for the next transportation bill. Though he hasn’t been as loud of an infrastructure booster as his predecessor, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Vitter was instrumental in writing MAP-21 and endorsed its passage. He’ll also play an outsized role in the WRDA reauthorization.
As the incoming head of the Association of American State Highway and Transportation Officials, Frederick “Bud” Wright will be well-positioned to drive the debate on the next transportation bill. Beyond his position at the top of an influential organization, Wright has been involved in writing several major transportation bills — including 1998’s TEA-21.
Stephen Martinko, who’s served as chief of staff for Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), is seeing his fortunes rise with his boss. With Shuster taking the gavel of the House Transportation Committee, Martinko, who’s had Shuster’s back for years, will become the committee’s deputy chief of staff, where he will likely have a hand in most if not all of the committee’s dealings in the 113th Congress.
Sen. Barbara Boxer’s senior policy adviser on Environment and Public Works, David Napoliello, will again have to navigate the treacherous waters of a transportation bill after having put the last one to bed. Napoliello, the sort of young Capitol Hill brain trust whom other people call when they need to understand something, previously had a stint at DOT more than a decade long, with his final job being budget chief at the Federal Highway Administration.
Amtrak is likely to be another hot-button, and Ed Wytkind, head of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, is virtually assured a seat at any negotiating table. His organization is partially what caused the House GOP to abandon an attempt earlier this year to push a bill privatizing Amtrak.
BY THE NUMBERS
National Highway System bridges classified as “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete” in 2009.
grade given to the nation’s aviation infrastructure by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
change from 2000 to 2008 in vehicle revenue miles for light rail nationwide.
average one-way commuting time in minutes by car.
SOURCES: Federal Highway Administration and American Society of Civil Engineers 2009 report card for infrastructure.
Cumulative losses to GDP between 2012-2020 for failing to address waterways infrastructure needs.