Short-term highway bill extension brings anxiety to contractors

Jessica Wehrman, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

The 2005 highway law was temporarily extended 10 times — sometimes by days, sometimes by months — as Congress fought for a long-term replacement. The 1998 law received 12 short-term extensions before finally being reauthorized, according to Jeff Davis of the nonpartisan Eno Center for Transportation.

The short-term extensions, said former Secretary of Transportation James H. Burnley IV, “are very disruptive,” particularly for an industry that relies on long-term planning in order to work efficiently.

“States need to have the legal certainty of a stable, dependable stream of federal aid on a multiyear basis to do long-term projects,” Burnley said. “When faced with extensions of weeks, months, sometimes days, they cannot go forward on the contracting side. They cannot make legal commitments in most cases, because they don’t have … the dependable flow of federal dollars that is a large part of what they are counting on to pay their contractors.”

Higher costs

Though it’s hard to quantify, he said, such disruptions “will inevitably increase costs on some projects.”

“The cumulative impact of that is that it simply takes longer to do major projects,” he said.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, said the short-term extension will be little more than a blip — a temporary inconvenience quickly forgotten when the infrastructure bill and the larger spending bill are approved.


“The bipartisan bill is going to pass,” he said.

But Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the West Virginia Republican who serves as ranking member on the EPW Committee, said she’s less convinced.

The inability to pass a long-term bill, she said, has been frustrating for her state, which is in a period of heavy repair, maintenance and new construction.

“These short-term stops and starts are not good for state DOTs, and we’re hearing that,” she said.

She said she’s less convinced that the Democratic impasse over the bipartisan bill and the larger bill will be easily resolved.

“I don’t see how they get there from where we are right now,” she said. “But, you know, stranger things have happened.”

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