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AASHTO Journal

President Signs Bill Providing 9-Month Extension, <br>$19.5 Billion for Highway Trust Fund
President Barack Obama signed into law Thursday morning a bill known as the "HIRE Act" containing several transportation provisions including an extension of authorization for federal highway and transit programs through Dec. 31 as well as providing $19.5 billion to the Highway Trust Fund.

"This jobs bill will maintain crucial investments in our roads and our bridges as we head into the spring and summer months when construction jobs are picking up," Obama said during the signing ceremony in the White House Rose Garden.

By a vote of 68-29, the Senate gave final approval Wednesday to the bill, HR 2847.

"Hundreds of thousands of construction workers and state department of transportation employees from across the country are breathing a collective sigh of relief now that the president has signed the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act," said AASHTO Executive Director John Horsley. "We are delighted that Congress has passed this significant piece of legislation and President Obama has signed it into law. It's a win for the economy and for the communities that will benefit from the transportation projects funded by this measure." (A video statement from Horsley regarding the HIRE Act is available at www.transportation.org.)

The measure signed by Obama will:

  1. Extend surface transportation authorization until the end of this calendar year. The previous extension of the 2005 surface transportation authorization law known as "SAFETEA-LU" was scheduled to expire March 28.
  2. Deposit $19.5 billion into the Highway Trust Fund to reimburse the trust fund for interest payments not received since 1998. This will ensure the trust fund's solvency into next year. 
  3. Restore in this fiscal year $8.7 billion in highway contract authority to the states that had been rescinded at the end of Fiscal Year 2009. 
  4. Fund the federal highway program's contract authority for FY 2010 at $42 billion, up from $30 billion, returning the program to its FY 2009 funding level.
  5. Provide $4.6 billion in additional federal subsidies for Build America Bonds, a program created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The bonds allow states and municipalities to finance infrastructure projects with an interest subsidy from the federal government. State and local governments have issued $78 billion worth of Build America Bonds during the program's first year. (The House Ways and Means Committee this week approved a further expansion of Build America Bonds -- see related story)
  6. Allow the Highway Trust Fund in the future to collect interest on its deposits, as all other federal trust funds are authorized to do.
  7. Restructure fuel-tax exemptions for government vehicles currently paid out of the Highway Trust Fund so future payments come out of the General Fund rather than the trust fund, increasing money available for highway and transit projects in future years.

Senators voted 61-30 on Monday to close debate on the bill and then held the final vote two days later. The House first passed the bill Dec. 16 with much greater funding, including $37.3 billion in stimulus money for transportation projects. (see Dec. 18 AASHTO Journal story) The Senate approved a scaled-down measure Feb. 24. (see Feb. 26 AASHTO Journal story) The House passed the measure a second time March 4 after nearly doubling additional federal subsidies for Build America Bonds from $2.5 billion to $4.6 billion and making some other changes unrelated to transportation. (see March 5 AASHTO Journal story)

"While this jobs bill is absolutely necessary, it's by no means enough," Obama said. "There's a lot more that we're going to need to do to spur hiring in the private sector and bring about full economic recovery -- from helping creditworthy small businesses to get loans that they need to expand, to offering incentives to make homes and businesses more energy efficient, to investing in infrastructure so we can put Americans to work doing the work that America needs done."

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-CA, said Wednesday after passage of the HIRE Act that the Senate could consider additional transportation spending in a future jobs package.

"In terms of job creation, this is one of the best ways to go, so I am supporting future jobs bills" that contain transportation money, she said.

Now that the HIRE Act has been signed, Boxer added, her committee "will focus on moving forward with a transformational [six-year] transportation authorization that will create jobs and build the infrastructure America needs for economic recovery and long-term prosperity."

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood praised the HIRE Act in a blog posting Thursday.

"The year-end extension means transportation projects employing thousands of workers can continue without the threat of disruption by furlough episodes like the one we experienced only two weeks ago," LaHood wrote. "It also means states can plan for a more-reliable funding future, allowing needed projects to continue advancing through the pipeline from idea to reality."

3/19/2010
Questions regarding this article may be directed to editor@aashtojournal.org.