It doesn’t seem possible that Congress will allow the federal surface transportation program to expire on Sunday night. But that’s what we’re facing this weekend. The current law is operating under a series of extensions—the most recent keeps the program going until the end of February. This time, rather than an inconspicuous continuation of the law, a 10-month extension is proposed as a key part of the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act, aka Stimulus II, aka the jobs bill.
That’s all well and good. Even though we’ve called for wholesale reform when it comes to the nation’s transportation laws, shutting the program down, furloughing federal workers, and halting some construction projects is not what this country needs right now. How other programs like COBRA and unemployment benefits get dealt with is anyone’s guess but on the transportation side something will likely get done – perhaps a one month extension separate and apart from the jobs bill.
But this does suggest some deeper problems. Despite earnest and sustained calls for a long term national commitment to infrastructure little progress is being made. Not to put too fine a point on it: but if Congress can dismiss the program in place today and risk a shutdown, it does not bode well for comprehensive reform.
Yet reform is what is needed to ensure our third class infrastructure doesn’t drag down our first class economy.