Measure, Hailed by Trucking, Goes to House-Senate Conference

The Senate on Wednesday passed a two-year, $109-billion bill to fund the nation’s highways and public transit system.

The trucking industry hailed several provisions contained in the measure, which passed by a 74-22 vote and now goes to House-Senate conference for further action.

“The highway bill passed by the Senate is an example of how things should work in Washington,” American Trucking Associations President Bill Graves said.

“This bill advances the cause of highway safety and takes a number of important steps toward reforming our transportation system,” he said in a statement.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also applauded passage, saying the highway bill was “a long-awaited victory” for business and the American people.

The bill will save jobs and highways and transit facilities will continue to receive funding at current levels, the business group said.

The bipartisan bill’s provisions include a drug and alcohol testing clearinghouse for truck drivers, truck-crashworthiness standards, and $2 billion a year in funding for a national freight program.

Although the bill goes to conference, on the House side Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said it is unlikely his chamber can come up with enough votes to pass its own bill.

Boehner has said he expects to put the Senate bill up for a vote in the House.

Passage of the Senate bill was hailed as a victory by transportation advocates anxious to avoid a shutdown of all highway programs, which will occur if Congress does not pass a bill or vote to temporarily extend funding for transportation by the end of the month.

The last funding authorization bill, SAFETEA-LU, expired in 2009 but has been extended eight times since then. The latest extension is set to expire March 31.

Lawmakers also amended the bill to discourage states from leasing roads to private operators, by cutting back some federal road funding to states that privatize existing highways and toll them.

The amendment, which was proposed by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D- N. Mex.), was backed by ATA and the motorist group AAA, formerly the American Automobile Association.

By Transport Topics

Staff Reporter Michele Fuetsch contributed to this story.