WASHINGTON – After meeting overnight, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Thursday morning approved a $ 547 billion package to fix the country’s roads and transit systems while putting more focus on the environment.
The committee spent 19 hours in a meeting that began Wednesday morning and considered more than 200 amendments to the transport package and separate legislation to fund sanitation facilities. Committee chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Said the bills would lay the groundwork for President Joe Biden’s $ 2.3 trillion US jobs plan.
The final vote was 38-26, with two Republicans joining Democrats in supporting the bill. The five-year bill is separate from Biden’s infrastructure push, but embodies many of the ideas proposed by the president.
It includes $ 343 billion for road and bridge construction, as well as road safety – an increase of more than 50% from the last transportation bill passed by Congress in 2015. It aims to ensure that states maintain existing road infrastructure before adding new lanes and creating programs to reduce carbon emissions from driving.
The bill would significantly increase funding for other modes of transportation. It provides $ 109 billion for public transit and $ 95 billion for rail, including a tripling of Amtrak funding to $ 32 billion.
Despite the two Republican votes of support, the debate underscored partisan divisions over how the federal government should approach transportation policy. GOP leaders called the legislation “My Way or the Highway Bill” and sought to characterize it as hopelessly radical.
Republicans have proposed amendments that would have changed core provisions of the law, such as removing the policy of prioritizing existing roads and blocking money for the high-speed rail project in California. Republicans have also sought to include changes to the environmental review process for major projects, which they say is unnecessarily slow and could be speeded up without harming the environment.
The debate over provisions requiring states to deal with existing roads and consider alternatives such as public transit before widening highways has highlighted the gap. Republicans argued that states need the flexibility to spend money where they see it most needed.
Representative Dusty Johnson, RS.D., said it would be more difficult for states to expand roads to disadvantage rural communities.
“In this kind of rural environment, single occupant vehicles are not the bad guy,” Johnson said. “They are the lifeblood of the economy that connects people to opportunity.”
DeFazio said states have pursued highway widening plans for decades and should be pushed to consider different approaches.
The bill includes $ 5.7 billion to fund nearly 1,500 projects booked by individual members of Congress.
Deron Lovaas, an environmental advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the bill a model bill for the type of legislation Congress should pass to tackle climate change.
“This bill will provide the investments we need in public transportation, safe streets, vehicle charging stations and reconnecting communities divided by highways,” Lovaas said. “Transport is the biggest source of carbon emissions, so it is of crucial importance to address the climate in this legislation.”
Committee approval sends the package to the House, with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Scheduling a vote for the week of June 28. Existing highway and transit programs are set to expire on September 30, and DeFazio has said he is committed to passing a bill before that date.
This will involve negotiating with the Senate, which is working on its own version of the bill. A committee has already put forward a bipartisan $ 304 billion proposal for road financing. This legislation is similar in some ways to the bill presented to the House, and DeFazio has expressed optimism about a deal.
On Thursday, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transport unveiled a contribution of $ 78 billion to the package. The bipartisan move would increase funding for major transportation subsidy programs, fund security agencies and provide $ 19 billion to Amtrak.
Committee chair Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Said the bill would help the country recover from the pandemic and was “a down payment to thrive and be competitive in the innovation economy.” .