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Government, Politics & Issues

McCaskill provisions in U.S. Senate highway bill address permitting, rental cars

Sen. McCaskill's Flickr Page

While it’s being called the “highway bill,” the U.S. Senate's plan has far more than funding for road and bridge projects. Among the provisions not specifically related to the six-year highway plan and its three years of guaranteed funding for maintenance and construction projects are two backed by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

The first is a measure co-sponsored by McCaskill and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio., to streamline federal permitting for major construction projects. The measure has broad support from the public and private sector across the country, said McCaskill, because it would speed up projects and cut costs and red tape.

“It saves money for taxpayers," said McCaskill, and "it makes the process of intersecting with the government much less of a headache.”

When McCaskill and Portman introduced their legislation earlier this year, several groups backed the proposal. 

“Because of the current dysfunctional permitting process marked by never-ending delays, valuable infrastructure and other construction projects are stalled or canceled entirely,” said Bill Kovacs, a senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a statement at the time.

The measure also has the backing of the National Association of Manufacturers and trade unions involved in major construction projects.

The other provision backed by McCaskill  is a consumer-protection measure involving rental car companies. 

“It would require rental car companies to fix any recalls prior to renting a vehicle to the public,” McCaskill said.

The Senate bill would pump $50 billion into the Highway Trust Fund, on top the current motor fuel tax.  Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told reporters last week that the current motor fuel tax falls short of what is needed by about $15 billion every year.  Even replacing that money, he said, would leave the nation’s interstate highway system short of what is necessary to eliminate the backlog of maintenance, repair and reconstruction projects across the country.

While the Senate plan authorizes construction projects for a six-year window, it only guarantees funding for the first three years. After that, lawmakers would have to find new ways to address the annual shortfall from revenue from the federal motor fuel tax.  

The House approved a five-month extension of the trust fund, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., wants to extend funding until after the 2016 presidential election.  If the Senate is unable to pass its own measure, leaders still have the option of approving the House plan before the end of the month, when the trust fund runs out of money.

Missouri has a lot at stake in the Senate highway bill being debated this week. About one-third of the state’s roadways and more than a quarter of the state’s bridges are in poor condition, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

The vote could happen Friday.


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