WASHINGTON, January 18, 2012 -The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is expected to draft a long-term, six-year surface transportation bill within the next couple of weeks in the hopes of adopting a measure before current law expires March 31.

The last Surface Authorization bill expired in September 2009 and has been temporarily extended eight separate times. Senate leaders last month said they wanted a two-year bill. With the latest extension is set to expire at the end of March, the White House has yet to indicate the length or level of funding it seeks for a highway bill.

“A long-term highway bill is as much about putting people back to work now as it is about investing in our country’s infrastructure to entice businesses to expand their operations in the U.S. and sell their products around the world more efficiently,” said Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill. He proposed updating the bill’s funding by using revenues from oil and natural gas exploration to supplement the money in the federal highway trust fund that is currently obtained from the federal motor fuel tax. Schock’s proposal, if included in the text of the House transportation bill, is expected to be voted on in early or mid-February, according to the congressman’s office.

In a letter to President Obama in December, more than 100 members of Congress asked for his support of “a six-year, fully funded and paid-for reauthorization with investments above current funding.” The members said the long-term solution, with a $400-500 billion level of investment, would be a better alternative to a shorter term bill that might have higher per-year funding.

“A modern, safe and efficient transportation authorization will not only create jobs now for the construction industry – facing a 13.3 percent unemployment rate – but it will also set the table for long-term job creation and economic growth,” according to the letter.

The Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute (UGPTI) in North Dakota conducts research on agricultural transportation and rural roads. In an assessment from 2003, UGPTI found that rural road users had a less positive perception of road conditions than the decision makers of public agencies. The Institute addresses the unique needs of rural areas, including sparse, but highly transit-dependent populations.

“The tri-states of Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota are among the many states plagued by declining revenues for road budgets, increasing road user demands, and a deteriorating infrastructure,” according to the UGPTI study, an Assessment of Regional Road User Needs in Three Rural States. “Decision makers are faced with difficult choices regarding the rural road infrastructure and allocation of limited resources.”

The House Committee on Transportation has not yet revealed specific details of the bill currently being drafted. However, Reps. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, and Schock are asking their colleagues to back a bill that requires consistent standards for lighting and marking agricultural machinery.

“Fifty-five percent of all traffic fatalities occur on rural two-lane roads,” said the representatives in a letter to their colleagues in the House. “These are roads where agricultural equipment is moved from field to field during the dimly-lit periods of dawn and dusk. Proper lighting and marking on agricultural equipment would enhance visibility and increase the safety of transportation on these dangerous roads.”

The letter also emphasized that the Agricultural Machinery Illumination Safety Act would standardize the variation in state rules. If approved, the bill would address only new machinery and would not require any owners to retrofit their equipment.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) introduced similar legislation, which passed in the Senate committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The standards may be combined with the upcoming consideration of the federal highway bill.

"Transportation investments are critical to the future of America's small towns and cities, and the rural regions surrounding them. With public resources growing ever scarcer, federal policy must now give these regions the same latitude to set their own priorities, and build collaborative and innovative approaches to achieve them, that our nation's metropolitan regions have long benefited from," said Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI) CEO Charles Fluharty.


Original story printed in January 18, 2012 Agri-Pulse Newsletter.

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