The President has signed legislation to extend SAFETEA-LU through March 31 and aviation programs through January 31. The House had passed the legislation unanimously on Tuesday. The Senate passed the bill on Thursday after a delay over a demand to eliminate the Transportation Enhancements. The program funds mostly bicycle and pedestrian projects and accounts for less than 2% of SAFETEA-LU funding.
Transportation stakeholders were nervous that political differences which lead to the FAA shutdown in August could cause another shutdown of the FAA, as well as highway/transit programs, when the authorizing bills expired this month.
The agreement authorizes SAFETEA-LU funding at fiscal 2011 levels, but the final funding level will be subject to fiscal 2012 appropriations agreements.
The deal may be bittersweet for advocates of the Transportation Enhancements program. To gain passage of the extension, Senate leaders agreed to include language in the multi-year bill changing the program. However it is not entirely clear what the change will be. Senator Tom Coburn (Oklahoma) believes the language will allow states to opt out of the program. Senator Barbara Boxer disagreed and said the language provides “more flexibility” to the states on the use of the Enhancement funds.
The extensions give legislators more time to reconcile the Senate-House differences on the highway/transit and aviation bills. However most stakeholders are pessimistic about multi-year bills passing before 2013.