Almost two and a half years after the expiration of SAFETEA-LU and after eight short-term “clean” extensions of surface transportation program authority (and at least one six-month extension of authority to collect the federal gasoline tax), the Senate has finally passed a new surface transportation authorization bill, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act or MAP-21. While the wait has been long, passage of MAP-21 is a notable achievement for two primary reasons.
First, the bill takes important first steps toward establishing a foundation for a performance-based management system with regard to these programs. This is something that BPC has urged and reported on over the past four years. In this regard, MAP-21 from my point of view is not a perfect bill. We would go further in terms of national goals and performance metrics, but it is a critical beginning and probably all that current data and political realities will allow. MAP-21 also would consolidate and simplify federal highway programs and places a particularly strong emphasis on the preservation and restoration of existing infrastructure. Again, these are matters that have been strongly urged by BPC and represent important changes in federal law. One should not overlook how important and promising MAP-21 is in this regard.
Second, this bill passed the Senate, because of a strong commitment by EPW Chair Barbara Boxer and Ranking Member James Inhofe that it was going to be a bipartisan bill. In that regard, they had the support of the Senate leadership, and they never wavered. This was an extraordinary demonstration of bipartisan leadership, something that is all too rare in the current climate. We hope that the House of Representatives will follow the model of MAP-21, both in its substantive provisions and, no less importantly, in the manner, in which MAP-21 took shape and passed. Indeed, it is hard to see how a bill will pass the House, or final surface transportation authorization legislation will be finally enacted, unless the House adopts such a course of action.