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AASHTO Journal

Federal Highway & Transit Programs Extended Through February
President Barack Obama signed into law last week a Department of Defense appropriations bill that includes an extension of highway and transit authorization through February -- the third short-term extension since the 2005 transportation law known as "SAFETEA-LU" expired Sept. 30.

The 72-day extension (contained in HR 3326) became Public Law 111-118 on Dec. 19 following Obama's signature and the Senate's vote of 88-10 earlier Dec. 19 to adopt the measure. This is the longest SAFETEA-LU extension to date. The first extension covered the month of October and the second extension was good for 48 days, expiring Dec. 18. 

Congress tacked the transportation authorization extension onto the defense measure because the House and Senate were again unable to reach agreement on a longer-term measure.

The House and Senate had passed a continuing resolution (House Joint Resolution 64) to keep federal highway and transit programs operating through Dec. 23 to give time for Obama to sign the defense measure. But since the Senate cleared the defense bill Dec. 19 and Obama approved it later that day, the continuing resolution proved to be unnecessary and Obama pocket-vetoed it today. A pocket veto occurs when a president does not sign legislation presented by Congress within 10 days and Congress is in recess. 

In other legislative action before adjourning for the year Dec. 16, the House of Representatives passed a job-creation bill (HR 2847) that contains a provision extending highway and transit authorization through Sept. 30, 2010, the end of the federal fiscal year. This measure would restore the highway program's baseline funding level for FY 2010 from $30 billion to $41.546 billion, which would make up for the billion dollars per month lost thus far under the short-term extensions. The bill also would provide a $19.5 billion infusion to the Highway Trust Fund. (see Dec. 18 AASHTO Journal story)

The Senate did not act on the job-creation bill before it adjourned for the year Dec. 24. The Senate is now in recess until Jan. 19.

In the absence of a well-funded six-year bill, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has been pushing Congress to agree on an extension bill that would be written by the authorizing committees and that would restore funding for the current fiscal year to pre-rescission levels.

"This is absolutely vital," John Horsley, AASHTO executive director, said of the need for a long-term extension. "We will work closely with the House and Senate to secure passage of a jobs bill that includes such an extension by February."

State DOTs are unable to make long-term plans for ambitious projects due to the uncertainty over future federal transportation funding.

"Planning for the spring start of the 2010 construction season is now hampered since funds are only available through February," Horsley said.


Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the number of extensions of the 2005 transportation authorization law known as "SAFETEA-LU" that have been enacted. While Congress has passed four extensions, the president has only signed three of them into law.

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