Not a single member of Congress is against it.
So a transportation bill ought to be a quickly done deal, right?
Not so in modern Washington, where the chasm between partisan visions and perspectives never has been so great.
If the two wildly different transportation proposals making their way through the House and Senate were the transcontinental railroad, chances would appear slim that they would meet in the middle. They might not even end up in the same state.
“I believe we will get it done,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), a prime mover behind the Senate bill. “Will it be pretty? Of course not. Everybody who says it’s like making sausage, it’s a lot uglier than that.”
There is a lot at stake.
Dwarfed by worries over jobs and overshadowed by bitter social divides, the nation’s transportation network is a mess and getting worse. Though portions of it appear immaculate and a profusion of construction sites give a false sense of security, much of what exists is badly deteriorating, and there isn’t enough of it to support a burgeoning 21st-century America.
The bills in play this week would fund transportation at roughly $53 billion a year. The experts say it would take about $262 billion a year to renew and expand the infrastructure needed to support the economy and growing population. Gas tax revenues have grown too meager to support the system that they built. Congress has been in a dither over what to do about that since the last long-term transportation bill expired more than two years ago.
Now they have reached a crisis point from which there is little chance of escape, experts say.
Unless they address the funding issue, the Highway Trust Fund that the gas tax has supported is projected to run out of money as early as October. If that happens, the spigot that produces some funding for virtually all aspects of surface transportation runs dry.
“If the pieces don’t come together now, it’s a very shaky situation moving forward,” said a senior Senate staff member who is not authorized to speak publicly. “The money’s going to run out. If they cut transportation to the levels that are currently in the trust fund, we would lose 630,000 jobs and it would devastate the economy.”
Those pieces, in many respects, appear radically different.
Painted with broad brush strokes, the House Republicans want to reform and streamline the transportation system and refocus priorities on a core mission to maintain and expand the highway system the trust fund was established to build.
Democrats and many of their Republican allies in the Senate like the notion of cutting red tape that slows construction projects, but they embrace a more traditional approach that supports a triad of transportation options.