The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says H.R. 7 supports improved mobility and more opportunities for the private sector to partner with the public sector on infrastructure projects.

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Signed, Sealed, Delivered

One day before the latest extension ran out, President Obama signed H.R. 4218, which extends federal transportation funding until June 30.

President Obama on March 30 signed H.R. 4218, a stopgap measured passed by both houses of Congress the previous day. It is the ninth extension passed by Congress since the most recent federal highways and infrastructure funding bill was enacted.

Highway funding, along with collection of federal gasoline taxes, now is authorized through June 30.

In response to House passage of H.R. 4218, Association of Equipment Manufacturers President Dennis Slater issued a statement on behalf of U.S. equipment manufacturers and the I Make America national grassroots campaign: "It has been 911 days and eight extensions since the last highway bill expired. It is a great disappointment to the nearly 21,000 supporters of the I Make America campaign, U.S. equipment manufacturers, and their tens of thousands of employees that Congress must resort for the ninth time to a short-term extension to prevent our nation's critical transportation programs from shutting down. Because current funding expires on March 31st, there is unfortunately no choice but for Congress to pass the ninth extension of this vital national program. But enough is enough. The House must act immediately within this extension period to pass its highway bill and move to conference with the Senate.

"As we have repeatedly said," he continued, "there is no single piece of legislation that will do more to immediately create American jobs, and drive U.S. economic growth and global competitiveness for the long term. Delay must no longer be considered an acceptable option."

The Senate had passed a $109 billion highways and infrastructure funding bill on March 14. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on March 8 said he had given up trying to pass H.R. 7, the American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act passed by the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Feb. 3, after a number of his Republican members balked at its $260 billion cost.

The Senate's bill would provide funding for two years rather than five, as in the House version. Both bills are seen by supporters as stimulative jobs bills that will repair highways, bridges, and infrastructure, but they also contain some safety provisions, such as a measure to withhold federal highway funds from states that fail to enact repeat intoxicated driver laws.

On March 6, the American Chemistry Council had issued a statement urging Congress to adopt three specific safety provisions in the bill it passes: "First," it said, "policymakers should give shippers a seat at the table to weigh-in on freight rail policies that would impact the safe delivery of toxic inhalation hazard (TIH) chemicals. Congress should also include provisions that allow the Federal Railroad Administration to consider the most effective and efficient technologies to help prevent accidents when transporting these critical chemicals by rail. Finally, we urge Congress to adopt the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act provisions that would improve the safety and efficiency of transporting these essential chemicals on the road or by rail."

The $260 billion, five-year bill had support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and far too many other organizations to list here. It also would have set up a showdown with the U.S. Senate and with President Obama because it directs that the Keystone XL oil pipeline be approved, even though the Obama administration rejected it. The Chamber has supported both bills; it backed H.R. 7 because it promises adequate funding, improved mobility, and more opportunities for the private sector to partner with the public sector on infrastructure projects.

Janet Kavinoky, vice president of Americans for Transportation Mobility and the Chamber's executive director of transportation and infrastructure, barnstormed through several states to discuss the bill's potential impact on state highway projects and mobility. Supporters say a multi-year bill is vital to improve mobility, repair deficient roads and bridges, and provide much-neded jobs.

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