They Said It Couldn’t Be Done…Congress Approves Roads Bill

After months of intense negotiations and years of active advocacy by OCBC, Mobility 21, OCTA, and many other partners in the business community, Congress on Friday finally approved a long-term surface transportation funding bill. The last transportation bill passed by Congress expired in 2009, and would have had to been extended for a 10th time if lawmakers had failed to reach an agreement, as transportation funding was scheduled to run out on June 30.

The highway bill package is a throwback to the days when compromise wasn’t a bad word. Both sides participated in good old-fashioned bipartisan horse-trading, each side giving up cherished priorities for a common good. Most notably, House Republicans agreed to drop their demands for language expediting the authorization of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline and loosening regulations on coal ash. In return, they won a concession from Democrats to streamline permitting of transportation projects. The legislation, called Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), maintains transportation funding at current levels through the end of fiscal 2014.

MAP-21 is the first long-term update of surface transportation policies since 2005 and maintains current levels of spending (plus an inflation adjustment) on federal road, bridge and mass transit projects for 27 months–until September 2014, or two months before a mid-term election. In addition to providing long-term planning certainty for infrastructure projects, MAP-21 includes key regulatory reform concepts that trace back to the Breaking Down Barriers Act of 2011 (H.R. 2766), introduced by Congressman Gary Miller (R-CA) to put into legislation the OCTA’s Breaking Down Barriers recommendations.

In the best kind of red tape-cutting, MAP-21’s reforms will aid project delivery and environmental streamlining by eliminating duplicative and time-consuming environmental reviews for capacity expansion projects on existing roads and bridges, expanding the use of innovative contracting methods, and consolidating environmental documentation. For more information contact Kate Klimow, Vice President of Government and Community Affairs.

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