WASHINGTON, D.C. — A federal bill to fund the nation’s infrastructure and bring more federal road money to West Virginia cleared a key U.S. Senate committee on Tuesday and heads to the full Senate for consideration sometime this fall.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the 2019 America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act in a unanimous, bipartisan 21-0 vote.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., chairs EPW’s Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, co-sponsored the bill and explained its benefits during a Tuesday press conference call after the vote.
Overall, she said, the five-year surface transportation reauthorization act provides $287 billion across those five years for roads, bridges and other projects.
The ATIA incorporates three bills Capito introduced:
– The Appalachian Regional Commission Reauthorization Act funds the ARC at $180 million through 2025, with $20 million of that for Appalachian broadband deployment.
– The Advancing Infrastructure Development in Appalachia Act would help fund completion of Corridor H by allowing states with unspent Appalachian Development Highway System funds to channel them to West Virginia for the last remaining ADHS project: Corridor H. Capito credited her staff with devising this idea.
– The Appalachian Regional Energy Hub Initiative Act devotes $5 million to help develop an Appalachian ethane storage hub system.
Capito mentioned one issue that stands could hamper all the bill’s good things: money. Federal roads money comes from the federal gas tax. And as in West Virginia, that income is shrinking because vehicles are more fuel-efficient, and some are electric. A variety of ideas are being stewed over to shore up that income, including a vehicle-miles-traveled tax and an electric car fee – both of which would tailor taxation to road use.
The state Division of Highways did not respond to a request for comment on the act or what its current level of federal funding is.
However, Capito’s office provided some figures gleaned from the Federal Highway Administration.
West Virginia will receive an estimated $483.97 million in the last year of the FAST Act, Fiscal Year 2020, which starts Oct. 1.
In the first year under ATIA, West Virginia would get an estimated $533.99 million, which is a single-year increase of $50 million. Each year, this increases about $11 million. Over the five-year bill, West Virginia would receive more than $2.7 billion in total, Capito’s office said.
Capito said she believes the bill could hit the Senate floor sometime in the fall. Senators will want to look it over, discuss all the creative ideas in the bill. The House has its own infrastructure bill, but that hasn’t moved yet and part of the reason they got ATIA moving so soon is to incentivize the House to get its bill rolling.
The bipartisan support of it, so far, bodes well for its success, she said.
The Dominion Post asked Sen. Joe Manchin for a comment on the bill and he provided this statement in an email exchange:
“When I was a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, I worked hard to ensure that we passed the FAST Act, the first federal law in over a decade to provide long-term funding certainty for surface transportation infrastructure planning and investment.
“I’m glad that Sen. Capito and the rest of the EPW Committee have introduced and passed their portion of the reauthorization bill, but this is the beginning of a long process that will require action in multiple committees. I just got the bill text on Monday and I’m still reviewing it but it seems like there are many provisions I will support.”