Last night's election results that put the Republicans in control of both houses of Congress could be the impetus in getting a significant multiyear surface transportation bill enacted into law next year, according to a leading industry watcher.
James H Burnley IV, who served as secretary of transportation during the last two years of the Reagan Administration, said GOP control of Congress "will make it more likely that a multiyear surface transportation bill can be passed next year." Burnley, who currently leads the transportation practice at Washington law firm Venable LLP, declined to speculate what the legislation would be like or, perhaps more significantly, how it would be paid for.
In July 2012, President Obama signed into law a 27-month, $109 billion transportation-funding bill, the first multiyear bill of its kind since 2005. Congress, facing a Sept. 30 expiration date of the 2012 law last August, passed a $10.8 billion extension that funded programs through May 2015.
At the time of the bill's 2012 passage, many thought a 27-month duration was too short a time frame for stakeholders to complete complex and costly infrastructure projects.
Janet F. Kavinoky, who heads transportation and infrastructure programs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said she was confident that lawmakers want to pass long-term funding legislation in 2015 and not kick the can down the road in the form of another series of short-term measures. "I have no reason to believe that the current and prospective committee leaders are anything but fully committed to getting a bill done next year," she said.
In the wake of Tuesday's outcome, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., will cede leadership of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, the Senate committee responsible for managing transport legislation. Boxer and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., took the lead in moving the 2012 bill through the Senate. The final version signed into law was largely the Senate's handiwork spearheaded by Boxer and Inhofe.
The Obama Administration, which for five years was largely silent on transportation legislation, in June unveiled a four-year, $302 billion funding plan of its own. In the aftermath of last night's results, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the new Senate majority leader, spoke about finding areas of common ground with the White House; transportation funding, which has enjoyed a long history of bipartisanship, may be an issue both sides can quickly come to terms on.