Transportation bill still faces hurdle in House
An unfinished portion of Route 219. (Daily American File Photo)
But the bill still has to pass the House, where lawmakers have been working on their own plan. Toll credits — given to the state when toll-road revenues are used for work on the Pennsylvania Turnpike — used to be allowed to help fund certain highway projects, like Route 219. The measure that allowed that transaction was eliminated from the 2005 transportation bill.
The House version of the plan, the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, has yet to be introduced on the floor. The House version would change toll credit language to allow credits to be used as matching funds for projects in the Appalachian Development Highway System, including Route 219. But the Republican bill has met opposition from Democrats.
"The plan as it stands right now is to let the Senate pass a bill, and take up something that looks like it unless the House coalesces around a better alternative, which we are actively pursuing," Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told The Associated Press.
U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, who serves on the transportation committee, has in recent weeks been working closely with committee Chairman John Mica to try to develop a version of the bill the House will pass.
Jeff Urbanchuk, Shuster's spokesman, said the Congressional Budget Office projects that under the Senate bill the highway account and the transit account will be exhausted by fiscal year 2014. Shuster supports a long-term reauthorization and reform of highway and transit programs that will provide certainty to state transportation departments.
"Congressman Shuster's support for toll credits to complete Route 219 has not changed," Urbanchuk said. "However, the Senate transportation bill will bankrupt the highway trust fund and leave us broke at the end of two years with little to show in reforming bureaucracy and cutting red tape."
U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown, does not support the House measure in its entirety. He has went on the record stating that "House Republicans have abandoned the bipartisan consensus that has always existed with highway legislation by unveiling a partisan transportation bill that destroys jobs, rolls back safety standards and does not meet our country's infrastructure needs."
On Wednesday Critz said that the bipartisan Senate vote puts Congress one step closer to passing a transportation bill that creates jobs, strengthens the economy and invests in road and highway infrastructure.
"I'm thrilled that this legislation includes a repeal of the toll credit language, which, if passed, will finally allow us to move forward on construction of 219 south," Critz said.
U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless, said he believes the Senate bill can pass the House.
"If they allow a vote on the Senate bill I am pretty confident it can pass the House," he said. "The bill that passed out of the committee can't pass the House and can't pass the Senate."
Altmire said House leadership has to decide whether to focus on their bill or a bill that can be signed into law. He said he can support the Senate measure but needs to look at amendments that may have been added during final passage.
The House returns next week from a weeklong recess.