The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee took just 20 minutes May 15 to approve unanimously by voice vote its piece of the MAP-21 Reauthorization Act (S. 2322), voting before committee members had even completed their opening statements, which resumed following approval. The six-year, $252 billion proposal would authorize new spending on freight programs, add award grants for states’ best practices that achieve efficiency and maintain the low-interest TIFIA infrastructure loans at current levels. The bill also includes new provisions to improve Highway Trust Fund transparency in order to give the American public a clearer view of how and where their money is being spent on transportation projects around the country.
Senators advanced the bill without any significant controversy, saving the bulk of any amendments that may be offered for the Senate floor. A package of five amendments that mostly made relatively small programmatic changes, including one related to the Appalachian Regional Development program, one related to a cap on funding for bridges that are not part of the Interstate Highway System and one related to changing the way the underlying bill funds research programs, was accepted by the committee.
One of the changes adopted was put forward by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and would place the FHWA’s research program, including University Transportation Centers, back into the Highway Trust Fund, letting them avoid the annual appropriations fight for general fund dollars. The original bill took the UTCs out of the trust fund, and Inhofe’s move to put them back in required a cut to the TIFIA program, from $1 billion to $750 million. The TIFIA program got a huge boost in MAP-21, rising from $122 million a year to $750 million in FY’13 and $1 billion for the current fiscal year. The University of Oklahoma was given a regional UTC last year in collaboration with Oklahoma State University and Langston University.
Technically, the bill now goes to the Senate floor, but it still must be pieced together with the Senate Commerce, Finance and Banking committees’ titles, which have yet to be completed. The House Transportation Committee is expected to introduce its draft reauthorization bill shortly.