the Downtown Bike Lane Pilot Project
Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday night that a transportation bill has a 50-50 chance of clearing the Senate-House conference committee today. Statements from some of the 47 members of the committee are now saying the chances may be better. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) The Hill: “We’re right on the precipice of victory. I feel very optimistic.”
The bill must be approved before June 30 when the government loses its authority to collect the federal 18.4 cents per gallon gasoline tax that funds surface transportation projects.
Inhofe wouldn’t confirm anything about the bill because of an agreement between him and committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) not to reveal any details of the negotiations. But the rumor is spreading that a provision to get the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline approved will not be included in the bill. Transportation Nation’s Todd Zwillich writes:
Politically-charged provisions forcing approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and rolling back EPA rules on coal ash will not be included in the final deal, according to aides. That could make it more difficult for House GOP leaders to secure votes for a final deal from Republicans, who have voted several times in favor of the measures and in many cases insisted on its inclusion in the highway bill.
In a concession by Democrats, extra money for land and water conservation looks to be left out of the deal. There are likely to be further reductions to transportation “enhancement” requirements forcing states to spend a certain portion of their highway funds on bike paths and other non-road projects.
Republicans appear to have scored a victory on the pace of environmental reviews for projects. While the original Senate bill limited reviews to 15 years, the deal afoot among conferees limits reviews to eight years, aides said. The final deal also appears to include extra money for rural schools and for Gulf Coast states ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.
The Senate has already passed a two-year transportation bill, but the House never brought a bill to the floor because of disputes within the Republican Party. There were a number of issues, but a key one came from the tea party wing, which argued that the proposed $ 260 billion in spending was too much. Inflation-adjusted that is 21 percent below the appropriation for the 2005 transportation bill, which expired in 2009. Since then, surface transportation projects have been funded by nine extensions of the expired bill. The latest extension was passed March 29 and expires Saturday.
Environmental advocates have worried all along that the conference committee would return a bill that is much more like the proposed House bill than the bill that cleared the Senate. The House bill was an extremist piece of legislation that would require more drilling for oil and using the revenues to fund various projects, cutting environmental review requirements for some projects, gutting programs related to bikeways, pedestrian-ways and mass transit, and reducing spending overall.
Kevin Mills, vice president of Policy and Trail Development of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, blogged this morning about the probable cuts in “transportation enhancements” such as bikeways:
How did we come to this point? These outcomes are vastly worse than current law as well as MAP-21, the bipartisan Senate bill that contained the only real transportation reforms coming into the conference negotiations. Senate leaders and the White House have been primarily focused on moving transportation as a “jobs bill.” Further, the White House issued a veto threat if the bill presented included the Keystone pipeline, a key plank in the House extension bill that set up the conference committee. Senator Boxer came to the negotiations with the jobs frame, marching orders to keep out Keystone and a personal priority to grow a program that provides credit assistance for big projects (“TIFIA”). In exchange, she may have made concessions on key points of contention like TE and environmental reviews.
When will find out what happened? Sen. Inhofe has said we’ll know everything by midnight tonight for sure. That’s Reid’s drop-dead deadline for getting the bill in shape for review by both houses of Congress.