The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously advanced a $287-billion highway bill out of committee Tuesday, a piece of legislation committee chair John Barrasso hailed as the “most substantial highway infrastructure legislation in history.”

The bill is light on text specific to ag and rural policy issues, but would direct more than 90% of its funding – $259 billion, according to the committee – toward repair and maintenance of roads and bridges used to truck the nation’s agricultural cargo. If realized, that would represent a 27% increase over the 2015 highway bill, the FAST Act.

The bill also includes language on climate change mitigation and “would invest $10 billion in policies and innovative projects aimed at reducing emissions and enhancing resilience,” Delaware’s Tom Carper, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said in a statement. A five-year, $250 million grant program tucked in the legislation would allocate funds “for projects designed to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions.”

The bill is seen as an easier fix to address road and bridge maintenance than a comprehensive infrastructure bill, but it is not without issues of its own. Barrasso made it clear at a Tuesday markup both he and Carper “agree this legislation must be paid for” and said they plan to work with the Senate Finance Committee leadership to address funding. The traditional funding source for maintenance – a Highway Trust Fund financed by the gas tax – does not account for the use of electric vehicles, something Barrasso said could possibly be addressed through a user fee.

“Everyone who drives on our roads should contribute to maintenance.

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