Five-Year Highway Bill Heads to Biden in Infrastructure Deal

  • Bipartisan infrastructure bill passes in 228-206 House vote
  • Measure would transfer $118 billion to Highway Trust Fund

A five-year reauthorization of federal highway, transit, and safety programs is headed to President Joe Biden’s desk as part of a bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by the House.

The 228-206 vote to pass the measure (H.R. 3684), held six weeks after the chamber first debated it, moved ahead Friday after Democrats reached an agreement on how to proceed with a separate social spending and tax package (H.R. 5376) following months of negotiation.

“The last major increase in federal support for infrastructure was during the Clinton administration’s first term,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said during the September floor debate. He previously criticized the bill for being crafted by senators without House input, but later urged lawmakers to vote on it. “It’s this or nothing on the long overdue investment in America’s infrastructure.”

House Democrats Agree on Strategy to Move Biden Agenda

Photo: Jenny Sathngam/Bloomberg
Traffic on Highway 1 in Honolulu on Oct. 27, 2021.

The House vote on the bipartisan infrastructure legislation, which the Senate passed in August, comes after two short-term highway and transit extensions in the past two months. The five-year bill will create certainty for the 3,700 workers at the Department of Transportation who were furloughed when transportation programs briefly lapsed last month. It will also provide stability to state transportation departments, which have struggled to plan projects under short-term renewals.

The $1.2 trillion bill would authorize $273.2 billion over five years from the Highway Trust Fund for highways and $69.9 billion for transit. The main source of money for the trust fund, the federal gasoline tax, hasn’t increased since 1993. While the measure wouldn’t change its rate, it would transfer $90 billion to the trust fund for highways and $28 billion for transit.

The bill would provide $110 billion in new spending for roads, bridges, and major projects, and about $39 billion for transit. It also includes $66 billion in spending on rail and Amtrak, as well as $7.5 billion to build out a network of electric vehicle chargers, and another $7.5 billion for low or zero-emission buses and ferries. Ports, waterways, and airports would get $42 billion in new funding.

“For myself and so many others, a bill like this is the reason we came to Congress,” Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) said during floor debate for the bill. “This long overdue legislation delivers comprehensive investment in our roads and bridges, ports and waterways, clean water systems, broadband networks, electrical grids and airports.”

Senate Avoids Solutions on Highway Funding With Another Bailout

Implementation

Progressives and advocates have criticized the bill for not going far enough on climate and for maintaining the “status quo” on highway building, but agreed to back it if it advanced in tandem with Democrats’ larger social spending bill. That legislation also includes funding for transportation, including $20 billion for high-speed rail and a new transit program.

“The administration has a difficult task ahead to advance their stated goals of repair, safety, climate, equity, and access to jobs and services through these small improvements, while spending historic amounts on unchanged programs that have historically made those issues worse,” Transportation for America Director Beth Osborne said. Her group wanted more funding to go to transit and other transportation modes that emit lower emissions than roads.

BGOV Bill Summary: H.R. 3684, Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal

Senators who worked to secure their priorities in the legislation have been urging for its passage. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — who called for its passage this week regardless of the progress on the larger measure — has highlighted that the bill will provide at least $3.8 billion to his state for infrastructure over the next five years. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) secured funding for a discretionary grant program to increase accessibility at transit and rail stations and language to establish a permanent disability advocate seat on Amtrak’s board of directors.

“This is a great start,” Duckworth said, adding that she will seek additional accessibility funding beyond the five years in the bill. “This will get us out the door and get many of these projects moving right away.”

Another provision in the bill aims to expedite the project review process. The One Federal Decision for projects “will make it easier to get much needed projects approved and provides the certainty states need to plan for the future,” Michael Johnson, president and CEO of the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association, said when pushing for the bill’s passage.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at lbyington@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com

Top