Things aren't looking so good for a comprehensive or long-term surface transportation bill this year. After news broke last week that House Republicans were backing off of a five-year $260 billion highway/energy bill, the best case scenario for legislation lies with the Senate's two-year, $109 billion proposal. That's what the Senate proponents have been saying all along, but there is no guarantee they will get what they want.
The Senate eventually will pass its bill, but senators first must slog through negotiations about which amendments, some completely unrelated to transportation, will be allowed floor votes. In the House, Republicans acknowledge that they are kicking some of the policy decisions for transportation into the next Congress. No one knows precisely what that means, but it sure sounds like a dressed-up extension. If the House and Senate can't agree on a path forward, lawmakers will be looking at a simple extension. Current highway authority expires on March 31.
What happened to the original idea that surface transportation legislation was revamped every five to six years? Is it impossible now to pass a long-term highway bill? What is the rationale for a longer-term bill? Can the transportation community subsist on shorter-term bills like the Senate proposal? What would happen if there never was another five-year bill?