New Road Bill Attracts Criticism

Charleston, VA: The US House of Representatives passed another short-term extension of federal highway legislation on Thursday morning, by a vote of 266 to 158.

Most House Democrats wanted to vote for the transportation bill that the Senate passed last week, 74 to 22. That legislation would have renewed federal transportation funding for two years. The House legislation extended the law for just 90 days.

In the past, Congress typically renewed transportation funding for six years at a time.

Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., who voted against the House bill written by the Republican majority, said: "We missed a golden opportunity today to send the president a long-term bipartisan transportation bill to create jobs and certainty.

"Republicans instead kicked the can down the road and passed a temporary transportation bill that will needlessly prolong uncertainty for contractors, construction crews and communities in West Virginia at the start of the construction season."

West Virginia department of transportation secretary Paul Maddox, Rahall said: has estimated continued "political posturing and the delay games we witnessed today could ... reduce our state's transportation efforts by 10 percent, jeopardizing over 1,200 middle-class jobs.

"Putting construction workers' jobs on the chopping block every few months for political points is no way to build and maintain a transportation system that keeps our economy moving," Rahall said.

Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley, both R-W.Va., voted for the Republican-backed temporary extension.

Jamie Corley, a spokeswoman for Capito, said on Thursday, "The good news is that both the House and the Senate want a long-term transportation bill.

"Clearly, there is more work to be done on both sides of the Capitol to iron out differences and find common ground, and therefore the House voted to pass a 90-day highway extension in order to keep projects from coming to a halt.

"Congresswoman Capito will closely consider any long-term transportation bill that comes up for a vote in the House and decide her vote on what is best for West Virginia," Corley said.

In a vote on Thursday afternoon, the Senate approved the House's 90-day extension to prevent federal highways and transportation programs from expiring at midnight Saturday.

President Obama indicated that he would sign the temporary extension.

Despite its members' widespread opposition to another short-term extension, the Senate voted for the House bill, especially since House members planned to leave for a two-week recess at the end of Thursday's session.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., wrote to West Virginia's three members of Congress on March 23, urging them to support the Senate bill.

"Short-term extensions lack the certainty the transportation community needs to plan, create jobs and make our transportation system safer," wrote Rockefeller, who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee.

On Thursday, Rockefeller said, "The House should have passed the sensible, bipartisan bill approved by the Senate earlier this month. Kicking the can down the road for another 90 days is not good policy.

"While I am relieved that we've been able to avoid letting our job-critical and surface transportation safety programs lapse, I'm frustrated that the House has been unable to act on the Senate's bipartisan two-year reauthorization, which passed with 74 votes."

On March 21, Rahall and more than 80 other House members introduced a bill that mirrored the Senate bill backed by many Senate Republicans.

Rahall, the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, urged House Republicans to "abandon their partisan transportation bill" and bring up the Senate bill for immediate discussion and consideration.

"With more than 2.7 million construction and manufacturing workers out of work, enough with the political games," Rahall said last week. "With tens of millions more seeking a better life, it is far past the time to stop the brinkmanship."

Deron Lovaas, the Natural Resource Defense Council's transportation policy director in Washington, said Thursday that "instead of fiddling around while our infrastructure falls apart, the House leadership ought to bring up the bipartisan transportation bill the Senate passed overwhelmingly.

"Nothing but the sheer obstinacy of many House Republicans now stands between America and a reliable program that can provide the roads, transit and rail systems we need to get around."

Gary Zuckett, director of West Virginia Citizen Action Group and a partner with Washington-based Transportation for America, said: "Kicking the can down the road by this three-month extension is better than laying off construction workers at the beginning of the new construction season.

"But we need a new bipartisan, multi-year transportation bill so that our highways and transit planners can have certainty for funding to keep West Virginians working to rebuild our crumbing bridges and other transportation infrastructure. It is good for the economy and good for West Virginia," Zuckett said.