Negotiators strike deal on five-year highway bill

Lawmakers in the House and Senate have reached an agreement on a compromise highway bill that would extend federal transportation funding for five years as Congress scrambles to prevent a lapse in highway funding this week.
The legislation, which faces a Dec. 4 deadline, will be known as the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.

It calls for spending approximately $205 billion on highways and $48 billion on transit projects over the next five years.

Lawmakers were hurrying to finish negotiations on the bicameral multi-year transportation funding bill so that both chambers would have time to examine the deal before Friday. The Department of Transportation had warned that it would have to stop making payments to state and local governments by then if Congress did not agree on at least another temporary extension.

The bill announced Tuesday, if approved by both chambers, would result in the first transportation funding legislation to last longer than two years since 2005. Talks on the bill began after the House passed a measure to spend up to $325 billion on transportation projects over the next six years.

But the lower chamber’s approach differed from a six-year bill approved by the Senate over the summer, leading to the conference committee that produced Tuesday’s compromise.

For years, lawmakers have passed temporary extensions of federal highway funding, much to the chagrin of transportation advocates who complain that the patchwork approach makes it is difficult for states to complete large construction projects.

But Congress has been struggling to come up with a way to pay for transportation funding in the long term.

The traditional source is revenue collected by the federal gas tax, which is set at 18.4 cents per gallon. The federal government spends about $50 billion per year on roads, but the gas tax only brings in $34 billion.