Gas tax expiration looms, as Reps. Dold, Biggert, Quigley offer strategy to advance transportation bill - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Gas tax expiration looms, as Reps. Dold, Biggert, Quigley offer strategy to advance transportation bill

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Steven Vance

The federal law that authorizes transportation investments and the federal motor fuel taxes that pays for them expires in three days, on Saturday, March 31. If Congress allows the bill to expire, the Chicago region will lose $1.2 million a day in federal public transit funding.

Congress has two options: 

  1. Pass the two-year, $109 billion MAP-21 bill approved by the Senate.
  2. Approve the ninth extension of the existing authorizing legislation, SAFETEA-LU, which expired in Sept. 2009 and has been extended eight times to date. 

Option two does not seem to have legs: Last night (March 26), House Republicans pulled a three-month, stop-gap extension of SAFETEA-LU from the floor after realizing they did not have the 218 votes needed to approve it. Democratic leaders in the House oppose yet another short-term extension and instead want to take up the longer, two-year Senate bill. Likewise, transportation officials prefer a longer term bill because it allows them to adequately plan ahead for local needs, critical now as the summer construction season begins. 

Option one, which MPC supports, is gaining ground: Two Republican House members from Illinois, Reps. Judy Biggert and Robert Dold, and Democrat Rep. Mike Quigley signed onto a bipartisan letter urging House leaders to take up the Senate bill. In the letter, the members stressed the critical importance of providing some certainty to allow the transportation sector to plan for future investments. They also pointed out that  MAP-21 was a bipartisan Senate effort, passing with a healthy margin of 74-22.  MPC commends Reps. Biggert, Dold and Quigley for promoting a rational strategy to prevent a lapse in our nation’s transportation  program, which would threaten the safety and maintenance of our public transit and highways, as well as cause the loss of 1.9 million good-paying jobs across the country.

Locally, some of the public transit projects that would be in jeopardy if the bill expires include Metra’s work to reduce delays by installing new switching equipment on the Milwaukee District line; Pace’s purchase of new coach busses for its bus-on-shoulder service; and Chicago Transit Authority’s purchase of new busses and rehabilitation of train stations.  As for roads, the Illinois Dept. of Transportation would cut projects identified in 2012’s state highway program.

House Republicans have been unable to muster enough votes to pass H.R. 7, their five-year, $260 billion transportation plan.  H.R. 7 would decimate guaranteed funding for public transit, eliminate bicycle and pedestrian programs, cut Amtrak by 25 percent, and cut successful, highly competitive programs like the TIGER program.  Under H.R. 7, the Chicago region would lose up to $1.2 billion in transportation funding. MPC and our partners continue to oppose this bill.

MAP-21, on the other hand, includes many of the provisions transportation advocates have rallied for, such as performance metrics that hold states accountable for spending, local control, flexibility, and a provision that would make the commuter transit tax benefit equal to the benefit received by those who drive to work and park.  

As Saturday’s deadline looms, it is urgent that House leaders heed the call of their own members, such as Reps. Dold, Biggert, and Quigley, and bring forward the bipartisan Senate bill for a vote. 

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