The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee yesterday passed a six-year, $325 billion bill to fund the country's federal surface transport programs, legislation that includes several freight-friendly provisions.
The "Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015" passed unanimously two days after it was introduced by Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa); Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.); Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.), and Highways and Transit Subcommittee Ranking Member Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C). It now goes to the House floor for a vote.
The committee's approval comes eight days before the Oct. 29 expiration of the most recent extension of funding legislation, which was signed by President Obama in late July. The Senate in late July passed its version of funding legislation, known as the "DRIVE Act."
"The Committee's overwhelming approval of the...Act today is a positive step forward for our Nation's transportation system and our economy," said Shuster in a statement. "I look forward to House action on the bill and going to conference with the Senate as soon as possible."
The House committee bill creates a $4.5-billion grants program over six years to fund what are considered "nationally significant" freight and highway projects. It also expands the so-called National Highway Freight Network to encompass highway connections to ports and intermodal facilities, and establishes a "national freight strategic plan" to govern goods movement.
The committee bill also would give the nation's railroads a three-year extension from the current Dec. 31, 2015, deadline to install positive train control (PTC), a series of advanced technologies designed to automatically stop or slow a train before accidents occur, eliminating the human-error cause of railroad accidents. The railroad industry has argued that the systems, which are very complex, will cost billions of dollars to install and cannot be fully installed by the end of the year without shutting down large portions of their networks, thus potentially crippling the flow of U.S. commerce. The industry had suggested the three-year extension that was included in the House committee bill.
In a related development, a coalition of 200 businesses, including shippers and carriers, today called on the House to include in its version of the funding bill language to increase the Gross Vehicle Weight of trucks travelling on the National Highway System, which includes the Interstate Highway System, to 91,000 pounds from the current 80,000-pound limit. Gross Vehicle Weight is the total weight of tractor, trailer, and cargo.
The Coalition for Transportation Productivity (CTP) said in a letter to various members that the language, contained in a separate piece of legislation, would give states the flexibility to "safely confront" highway capacity issues by utilizing six-axle trucks, which it said would increase braking stability at the heavier weights. Critics of the proposal said trucks weighing more than the current limit, which has not been changed since 1982, would cause further damage to an already brittle infrastructure.