For the first time in seven years, the United States has a long-term highway and transit authorization bill.
EPA / Molly Riley
|"This bill will keep thousands of construction workers on the job rebuilding our nation's infrastructure," Obama said at the White House East Room signing ceremony.|
On Friday (July 6), flanked by unemployed construction workers and members of both parties, President Obama signed a $105 billion, 27-month transportation bill that drew significant bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress.
The bill passed the House (373-52) and Senate (74-19) on June 29, capping an otherwise politically heated month.
H.R. 4348, the "Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act" (“MAP-21"), reauthorizes taxes that support the Highway Trust Fund through Sept. 30, 2016; authorizes spending from that fund through Sept. 30, 2014; and makes major reforms to surface transportation programs.
(The bill also reauthorizes the National Flood Insurance Program through Sept. 30, 2017, and extends federally subsidized student loan rates for a year.)
The bill averted a 10th extension of the 2005 surface transportation authorization act known as SAFETEA-LU. The measure maintains funding for crumbling road and bridge, mass transit and other transportation projects that would have expired June 30.
The bill allows more than $100 billion to be spent on highway, mass transit and other transportation programs in every state during the next two years. It also consolidates federal transportation programs, giving states more flexibility in spending money from Washington.
Finally, it includes safety initiatives, including requirements aimed at enhancing bus safety.
‘Make a Real Difference’
"This bill will keep thousands of construction workers on the job rebuilding our nation's infrastructure," Obama said at Friday’s White House East Room signing ceremony.
|Rep. John Mica (R-FL), left, and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), who chair the House and Senate transportation committees, expressed rare agreement in praise of the measure.|
"This is an outstanding piece of business,” he added. “And I'm very appreciative of the hard work that Congress has done on it. My hope is that this bipartisan spirit spills over into the next phase" on measures to boost the economy.
Obama said the measure would "make a real difference" for millions of Americans, adding: "There's no excuse for inaction when there are so many Americans still trying to get back on their feet.”
Obama specifically recognized the efforts of House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL), leading sponsor of the bill.
Mica originally endorsed a five-year, $260 billion spending plan that House Republicans introduced in January. The final bill was much closer to a leaner, shorter-term Senate plan proposed last November.
“The bill becoming law today is the result of strong bipartisan and bicameral work by a number of my House and Senate colleagues,” Mica said in a statement.
“Fortunately through their work and efforts, thousands of projects will not be closed down next week, and hundreds of thousands of workers will not receive pink slips.”
(On the other hand, Mica’s newest campaign ads do not mention the transportation bill.)
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Mica’s transportation committee counterpart on the Senate side, said the bill is “bipartisan and makes smart investments in our national infrastructure and safety system.”
“Finding consensus is never easy, but this was a major priority, and making the country’s roads, bridges, and highways safer and more efficient is good for all of us,” Rockefeller said. “I know West Virginia can make good use of the over $420 million coming to the state next year to rebuild our highways.”
Like other supporters, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the bill would boost employment. “So many people are going to go to work as a result of this, building roads and bridges,” LaHood said.
Indeed, the bill signing ended a day that began with a stubborn unemployment report. The U.S. economy added only 80,000 jobs in June, leaving the national unemployment rate unchanged at 8.2 percent.
Pete Ruane, president and CEO of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), said the transportation bill “opens the door to more private investment in large, congestion-busting transportation projects.”
“And, most importantly, it ushers in performance standards and reporting requirements so that the public will now know how their federal transportation dollars are being used and what kind of return on investment they are receiving.”
Ron Summers, of Glendora, CA-based CalPortland Co., said the law assured the employment of 3 million Americans in the construction industry.
National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association President and CEO Joy Pinniger said the measure would help put the aggregates industry back on the road to economic growth.
“Every $1 million in aggregates sales creates 19.5 jobs, and every dollar of industry output returns $1.58 to the economy,” Pinniger said in a statement.
Stephen E. Sandherr, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America, said the bill “ends nearly three years’ worth of temporary extensions that have made it increasingly difficult for state and local officials to plan for, fund and execute major new infrastructure projects.”
The measure “should allow construction to finally begin on many long-delayed, yet vital, projects. In addition, this bill will make it easier for a host of long-contemplated projects to move through a regulatory review process that until now was hopelessly inefficient.”
Neither the American Coatings Association, which represents coating manufacturers, nor the AFL-CIO issued an immediate statement on the new measure.