Congress cleared a crucial highway bill, which was swiftly seconded by the Senate. The five-year bill, exceeding $300 billion, will now be presented to the President, who too, is expected to sign it into law, with equal fervour.
A long-term bill to ensure funds for highways and transit was finally approved by Congress on Friday. The bill was direly needed, since major infrastructure has always been fixed as stop-gap arrangements. America’s aging highways which are increasingly under the pressure of rising traffic, along with the transit systems that will now, hopefully, have a systematic arrangement fund allocation provision. The 5-year, $305 billion bill has been laden with enough industry favors, parochial projects, safety improvements, and union demands to gain overwhelming support, reported Republican American.
The highway bill will boost spending on roads and transit systems by billions of dollars each year, as compared to the usual provisions. In its first year itself, the bill will make provision to spend $2.1 billion above current levels. By the time the bill is in its final year, the upsurge will be $6.1 billion above the average $50 billion that was usually spent in revamping the infrastructure. Essentially, spending on the transit infrastructure is expected to be almost $10.6 billion in 2020, up from the current $8.6 billion.
Interestingly, the bill has been titled Fixing America’s Surface Transportation, or FAST. Once signed into law, the FAST Act will reauthorize the collection of the 18.4 cents per gallon “gasoline tax” that has been typically used to pay for transportation projects, reported the Examiner. This might be one of the swiftest bills to pass through, as a few hours after the Congress passed the $305 billion highway bill, the Senate approved it and sent it forward to the president. The bill includes a provision for spending about $205 billion on highways. The rest ($48 billion) will be spent on transit projects over the next five years.
Barack Obama has been quite eager to get the highway bill approved. His administration and Republican leaders in Congress too have shared his enthusiasm. In fact, Obama has openly shared his dislike about the last-minute and short-term transportation funding bills. However, he has grudgingly signed dozens of patches to ensure the aging transportation infrastructure keeps functioning. The situation had got so bad, recent last-minute projects had managed to work for mere two to three weeks before needing attention again.
The bill, which was approved 359 to 65 in the House, and 83 to 16 in the Senate, is squarely aimed at ending the short term extensions, which have done little apart from run up the cost of highway and rail projects. Moreover, since the individual states aren’t able to do long-term planning, they can’t take advantage of low costs during the recession and low interest rates. As a result, the projects have turned out to be very expensive, with a very limited work-life.
Apart from the “gas tax,” the highway bill will be paid by a package of $70 billion in offsets from other areas of the federal budget, reported OpEd News. The bill primarily tackles the insecurity of the states, assuring them that federal help will be available for major projects.
Though the highway bill fails to specify how the money for large transportation programs will be generated in the long run and clearly has a small window for remedying the transit infrastructure of the entire country, it has been a success for Republicans who can claim they can govern. Meanwhile, Obama can highlight there’s progress during his tenure, said Rep. Bill Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“The bill proves to the American people that we can get big things done.”
The highway bill’s swift passage can certainly be considered as a landmark moment for a Congress, that Americans have routinely chided as a “do-nothing body.” But, the lawmakers have once again failed to ensure a sustainable and renewable source of cash to fund the bill, reported the Portland Press Herald.
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