*UPDATE* A few hours ago the U.S. Senate passed MAP-21 by a large margin -- 74-22 -- which means we finally have a balanced, bipartisan transportation bill from Congress, which Secretary LaHood has said he favors meaning the President could sign it. Next stop: The House, which must pull itself out of the partisan ditch and pass MAP-21 before we drop off another cliff for transportation funding in less than three weeks (current law expires on March 31).
While it took a convoluted route involving not just dozens of amendments related to transportation but "nongermane" ones covering everything from contraception to drilling everywhere in America, it looks the Senate will pass a good transportation bill. The final product, as I've written here, here and here has laudable provisions including badly needed transportation objectives and performance measures (covering, for example, energy), prioritization of long-deferred repairs to highways and bridges, extension of transit commuter benefits by one year, more local -- rather than state highway agency -- control over air quality improvements such as transit, and an optional planning process using scenario-building as done fruitfully in a small set of regions such as Nashville, Tennessee and Salt Lake City, Utah.
Compass by Vinicius de Carvalho Venâncio
This bill, S. 1813, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century or MAP-21, provides badly needed direction to the House of Representatives which remains in "disarray" as aptly summed up by Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, after offering the worst transportation bill ever.
Both sides of the aisle were involved with this bill, which is all-too-unusual nowadays. Senate Majority Leader Reid worked with his counterpart Republican Minority Leader McConnell as well as bill drafters and managers including most notably California Senator Boxer and Oklahoma Senator Inhofe. The League of Conservation Voters scores legislators based on the votes they take on environmental matters; Sen. Boxer's latest score is 100% while Sen. Inhofe's is 18%. And yet these two Senators, and a majority of the Senate, is as I type this coming together to approve MAP-21.
Senator Reid this week may well have put it best, regarding what should come next for the sake of our transportation system and economy: "With job-creating transportation programs set to expire at the end of the month, the House should take up the Senate's bipartisan transportation bill and pass it as soon as they return. The millions of Americans whose jobs depend on these programs cannot afford for Republicans to turn the Senate's bipartisan legislation into yet another partisan battle." (quoted in Politico's Morning Transportation yesterday)
The simple truth is that MAP-21 provides clear direction for the House to move forward: Take up this balanced, bipartisan bill and pass it now.