The most recent congressional standoff over extending the current surface transportation law -- for the fifth time since it expired on Oct. 1 -- led to the shutdown of Highway Trust Fund programs on March 1. This occurred in part because the law does not contain language on how to treat certain earmarked programs beyond the law's initial authorization and the two chambers disagreed over how to do so.
Given the delays and uncertainties associated with extending surface transportation programs after the law's authorization has run out, should the next bill spell out how to extend expired programs until a subsequent authorization is enacted? For example, it could extend them in automatic six-month increments until a new authorization is completed. This approach could hamper future Congresses' ability to control the length of continuing resolutions, but it would provide much greater certainty to state transportation departments, transit agencies and contractors. Is this a good idea? How would you suggest the next bill provide for expiring programs?