H.R. 3819: Add it to the patchwork

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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House Republican leaders on Friday, Oct. 23, 2015 unveiled a stopgap bill, H.R. 3819, the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2015, which would extend federal transportation funding through Nov. 20 in order to prevent a Highway Trust Fund shutdown. H.R. 3819 includes language for a PTC deadline extension identical to that in H.R. 3763, the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform (STRR) Act of 2015, passed Oct. 22 by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

H.R. 3819, which was introduced by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) ”should move quickly to a House floor vote,” notes Railway Age Capitol Hill Contributing Editor Frank Wilner. “The difficulty begins with the Senate.”

Federal transportation spending is set to expire Oct. 29. “GOP leaders said Friday that the three-week highway funding package could come up for a vote on the floor of the House as early as Tuesday (Oct. 27), which gives the Senate two days to take up the patch before the scheduled expiration of the current transportation funding law,” The Hill reported. “The measure does not include any new money, because lawmakers included enough money in three-month transportation bill that was approved in July to last until the end of the year in case they needed more time to finish work on a multiyear fix. The earlier patch is scheduled to expire Thursday (Oct. 29), necessitating the new measure that is now being introduced in the House.”

“Congress has not passed a transportation funding bill that last longer than two years, much to the chagrin of infrastructure advocates in Washington,” The Hill noted. “President Obama has also decried the number of temporary patches, which transportation advocates say hamstring state governments working on long-term construction projects. But the White House signaled Friday that Obama will sign the latest temporary patch. ‘The unfortunate reality is Congress will need to pass another short-term’ measure, White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters Friday afternoon.”

The Senate in July passed a bill that includes three years of guaranteed transportation funding in July, and Senate leaders have said they expect to be able to get a multi-year bill to the President’s desk by Thanksgiving. “Both the Senate and the House bills have many similarities that will allow for a very short conference period,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement after the House T&I Committee passed H.R. 3763. “With this milestone, Congress should be able to send a bill to the president’s desk by Thanksgiving. This will allow for our nation to avoid the Highway Trust Fund hitting a dangerously low level, which DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx warned would significantly affect the 2016 construction season.”

The DOT has warned that it will have to stop making payments to states and local governments for infrastructure projects in November if Congress does not reach an agreement.

As far as PTC is concerned, “Without an extension of the Positive Train Control deadline, freight railroads have indicated they will suspend shipments of certain chemicals, such as chlorine used to purify drinking water and anhydrous ammonia used in fertilizer, well before the end of the year,” said Shuster. ”In some cases, companies that produce these chemicals already have been forced to begin their production shutdown processes. In other cases, some freight railroads may suspend all shipments of commodities. Passenger rail service will also be impacted: Commuter railroads will have to suspend operations, and Amtrak service outside of the [Northeast] corridor between Washington and New York will stop.

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