Highway Bill Signing Set for July 6

An afternoon signing ceremony at the White House will include construction workers and students, two groups that will benefit from the law.

President Obama will sign the new highway funding bill on July 6 in an afternoon ceremony including construction workers and students, two groups that will benefit from H.R. 4348. Both houses of Congress passed it June 29; it prevents a scheduled increase in the interest rate on student loans and provides highway funds through 2014.

The chairmen of the House and Senate transportation committees praised it, although Senate Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said he is disappointed some of the highway safety elements passed by the Senate are not in the final $120 billion bill.

"Critical reforms in this legislation consolidate our transportation programs, significantly streamline the bureaucratic project process, encourage private sector participation in building infrastructure, and give states more flexibility to spend limited Highway Trust Fund resources where they are most needed," said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., who called H.R. 4348 a significant jobs bill. He said the bill will streamline the process of constructing federally funded highway projects to make it faster, by setting deadlines: For slow-moving projects, DOT would set deadlines to ensure all approvals occur within four years or agencies would lose funding through an automatic rescission.

Mica said the bill also will expedite projects to rebuild infrastructure destroyed by a disaster. The bill will consolidate National Highway Traffic Safety Administration incentive grant programs and increase funding flexibility for states that qualify for safety incentive grants. It will reauthorize DOT hazardous materials safety programs, and it will ban a DOT-proposed wetlines regulation until the Government Accountability Office can analyze its costs and benefits.

The Congressional Budget Office reviewed the conference report and estimated H.R. 4348 will reduce budget deficits by $16.3 billion during 2012-2022. (The bill also will extend the National Flood Insurance Program for five years.)

"This surface transportation bill is critical to helping restore our nation's roads, bridges, and highways," said Rockefeller. "When we passed the bipartisan Senate reauthorization bill in March, we sought to make America's passenger vehicles and surface transportation infrastructure safer and more efficient. As a conferee and chairman of the committee responsible for making our transportation system safer, I believe we've ultimately reached a policy that brings the United States into the 21st century. It takes important steps to end distracted driving and protect all motorists. It ensures companies that violate safety obligations will be held accountable. And children and parents will benefit from improved safety standards."

He said the bill will create NHTSA grant programs to address long-standing and emerging driving issues, such as distracted and impaired driving and driver licensing for teens; and will improve Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration oversight of truck and bus safety.

The American Trucking Associations' president and CEO, Bill Graves, on June 28 said the bill, "while not all we could have hoped for as an industry and as users of the highway system, makes tremendous strides in the safety arena and puts down a marker for future improvements to our nation's freight infrastructure." It includes several initiatives advocated by ATA, including a requirement that commercial trucks use electronic logging devices to record drivers' compliance with federal hours of service limits, a new clearinghouse to track drug and alcohol test results, and a study of crashworthiness standards for large trucks.

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