US Senate committee approves transportation bill in bipartisan vote

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday unanimously passed a $303.5 billion bill focused on national highway programs.

The Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act authorizes five years of funding for highway improvements as well as addressing climate change and rural transportation. The proposal also serves as a possible cornerstone of a legislative transportation package.

Committee Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., and Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., set a deadline in February to have a transportation bill ready by Memorial Day.

“I have always been optimistic that we would get here, but I’m absolutely thrilled that we reached a bipartisan agreement that will address our nation’s surface transportation needs,” Capito said Wednesday ahead of the 20-0 vote.

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. (File)

Congress previously authorized a surface transportation bill in 2015; lawmakers opted last year to extend the measure by one year, and the extension will expire Sept. 30.

The Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act increases funding for essential highway and bridge programs by 34% compared to the 2015 measure. It also dedicates more than $18 billion for efforts aimed at reducing transportation emissions, such as electric vehicle charging, public transportation and infrastructure for bicycling and walking. Rural communities would be eligible for $2 billion for improving and expanding transportation systems.

Ninety percent of the funding will be distributed to states based on a formula; West Virginia would receive more than $3 billion over five years.

“It will ensure long-term investment in our nations’ roads and bridges while providing states and communities the flexibility they need to address their unique transportation needs,” Capito said.

The committee’s action came amid ongoing discussions between the White House and Senate Republicans on a sweeping infrastructure measure. Capito, who is leading negotiations on behalf of her Republican colleagues, will host a press conference Thursday on an updated counteroffer to the White House’s $1.7 trillion American Jobs Plan.

Capito on Wednesday acknowledged the transportation bill as an “anchor” to the discussions.

Capito and Senate Republicans have spoken to President Joe Biden and White House officials multiple times about a possible deal. The senators noted last Friday there are “vast differences” between both sides, including how to generate revenue.

Regarding the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act, the Senate Banking, Commerce and Finance committees will address rail and transit in addition to funding.

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