WASHINGTON — For the first time in nearly 10 years, Congress is poised to pass a multiyear transportation funding plan that will provide additional funding to address state road and bridge needs.
Maine’s delegation says that although the bill is not perfect, they are supporting it.
After weeks of negotiations between the House and Senate, a compromise five-year spending bill appears to be winning strong, bipartisan support. The plan is less than the six-year version passed by the Senate and will provide only a modest increase in funds for repairing the nation’s roads and bridges. But Sen. Susan Collins says she’ll support it.
“The funding is not ideal by any means,” she says. “It is cobbled together.”
Most of the $305 billion package will be paid for through the federal tax on fuels — both gas and diesel. Other one-time sources include $40 billion from the Federal Reserve surplus account and the selling of 66 million barrels of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Sen. Angus King says even though he would have liked ongoing funding sources, he too will vote in favor.
“Around here you gotta take the best that is offered, and I don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good, and generally this is a very good bill,” he says.
Maine Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt says a five-year plan will allow the department to better plan projects and get the most from the funding that is provided. Right now the feds cover about 35 percent of the state’s transportation budget. But Bernhardt acknowledges the additional funding in the bill will not put much of a dent in the backlog of needed road and bridge replacement and repairs.
“When we put the last work plan together we were around $119 million short to meet our goals, but this does give us more funding,” he says.
Maine’s transportation allotment from Washington has been flat funded for several years. Under the legislation, Maine will get as much as $9 million in additional funding in the first year of the bill, but that slows to about $4 million extra per year for the remaining years.
Collins says there’s more Congress can do to address the problem.
“We still need much more investment in the infrastructure but this bill represents progress,” she said.
First District Democrat Rep. Chellie Pingree agrees Congress has to dig deeper on transportation funding for the states.
“It’s absolutely not enough money, and I think that everybody also knows that if Congress had the courage to act we would put together a serious infrastructure bill because we have so much infrastructure need,” she says.
But Republican 2nd District Rep. Bruce Poliquin says while more needs to be done, it has to be funded within existing resources, and that means some other federal spending areas should be cut.
“Until we get our hands around some of these very large programs that are starting to crowd out the funding for roads and bridges and education and what have you, we will continue to have this problem,” he says.
The bill also contains some unrelated legislation, including a measure King co-sponsored on regulatory reform.
It also reauthorizes the Export-Import Bank, whose authority to make new loans ran out last summer, prompting lengthy debate in the House.
The current transportation authorization runs out Friday, and lawmakers expect to work late nights this week to finally pass the bill before the deadline.
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public Broadcasting Network.