After years of short-term bills that have left states and transportation agencies desperate for cash and long-term certainty, House and Senate negotiators on Tuesday released a compromise transportation bill that will keep programs afloat for five years.
The 1,300-page "Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act," or "FAST Act,” is the combination of transportation bills that cleared both chambers earlier this year and will represent the first long-term transportation bill to pass Congress in more than a decade.
The final bill comes up a little short than the six-year bill members had originally promised: it’s just five years total and spends $296 billion overall, the result of a hodgepodge of funding mechanisms highlighted by the liquidation of a Federal Reserve surplus account.
But given the dire straits of transportation finance, nobody’s much sweating a lost year when the result is a bill that’s fully paid for.
“You can’t get six years out of” the bill's particular set of pay-fors, said Sen. John Thune. “But this is the biggest highway bill in some time.”
Or as a chipper James Inhofe, the lead Senate Republican on the bill, put it: “All’s well that ends well.”
The race is now on to get the bill passed before a Friday deadline when money runs out. It’s expected to make it to the House floor on Thursday, but the Senate has a busy agenda this week, with an expected vote-a-rama on Thursday evening.