Key members of Congress provided their outlook on surface transportation reauthorization challenges and opportunities during the 2021 virtual American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Washington Briefing.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chair of the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee stressed that “we certainly have common cause with state DOTs to rebuild the infrastructure of this country” in his remarks.
“This is going to be a transformative [surface transportation reauthorization] bill,” Rep. DeFazio said. “We are going to do real infrastructure investment but it will be transformative – it will address severe weather events, severe wildfires, severe flooding, and obviously sea level rise and other coastal states. I don’t think you will see a ‘status quo’ bill out of the House or the Senate this time.”
Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., the ranking member on the House T&I Committee, noted that “while the dynamics are different in the House and Senate this year,” he and his caucus are “working hard to craft a bipartisan bill.”
“We have a lot of issues to address: how to figure out how to ensure the Highway Trust Fund is solvent for many years to come and how folks using electricity and alternative fuels pay their fair share into the trust fund.,” Rep. Graves added. “The best way to get something done is by working together.”
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said, “Our committee has a long history bringing people together from both sides of the aisle” and pointed to the surface reauthorization bill issued out of the EPW committee 18 months ago unanimously though it ultimately never came to the Senate floor for a vote.
“Now the work before us is to get a robust reauthorization bill across the finish line,” he said in his remarks. “President Biden made clear one of his priorities is to invest in our transportation infrastructure – and reauthorization can play a central role in his Build Back Better infrastructure vision. It is my hope my colleagues on other committees help to mark up our bill this summer and pass it before the current one-year extension expires.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W. Va., the ranking member on the EPW Committee, echoed Sen. Carper’s sentiment, noting that, “the best thing we can do is pass a very long term transportation bill. It would be great to get a six year bill passed but we are aiming for five years.”
“I think the reason we had a unanimous passage of the [EPW’s reauthorization] bill 18 months ago is the recognition of the importance of moving goods and accessing jobs through transportation in all of our states,” she added. “But everyone has different issues so we want to give the ability to be as flexible as possible and use federal dollars in the best way for each state. We’ll press to keep the state formula [funding] plans in place but let us not handcuff certain percentages of those formula dollars. The flexibility aspect of this bill will be really, really critical.”