A long-term transportation bill that includes funding would significantly impact engineering and construction businesses in creating new jobs and sustaining long-term viability in the industry, among numerous other benefits, according to the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC).
ACEC members would like to see such a bill come from current U.S. House-Senate conference negotiations to reconcile differences between the Surface Transportation Reform and Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 3763) and the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act (S. 1647).
The House-Senate conferees are confident they will have a final deal shortly after their Thanksgiving recess, and Congress is expected to extend existing programs through Friday to give negotiators more time to finalize the measure.
"[The Senate’s DRIVE Act] sets the bar a bit higher in terms of authorized funding levels, which is something ACEC strongly supports,” Steve Hall, vice president of government affairs for ACEC, told TI News Daily. "[In comparison,] the House bill includes many provisions that will facilitate the work the nation’s engineering industry does for our department of transportation (DOT) clients."
Such provisions include providing a degree of funding certainty for federal highway and transit programs, project delivery reforms that will make it easier for critical transportation improvements to move forward and provisions to promote greater partnerships between state DOTs and the engineering industry.
“ACEC was also very supportive of the provisions in the bill to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank as well as provisions to enhance the security and resilience of the nation’s electrical grid,” Hall said.
In fact, in a recent letter to conference members, ACEC urged that they retain several key measures in the final bill, including a provision encouraging DOTs to partner with private sector engineering and design firms, aggressive environmental streamlining reforms, research and development grants to study mileage-based user fees and other alternative revenue mechanisms and increased funding for TIFIA loans and loan guarantees to leverage additional private sector investment.
Other ACEC-backed provisions in a final bill include water infrastructure financing assistance for local communities, energy grid resiliency and security measures and the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank.
At the same time, Hall said there is other federal legislation that ACEC would like to see addressed before the end of the year.
“Beyond the surface transportation bill, the biggest priority for ACEC before the end of the year is the timely passage of the FY16 appropriations bills and the critical need to prevent another shutdown of federal agencies and programs,” he said.
Hall added that the passage of legislation to extend key tax provisions – in addition to the R&D tax credit that expired last year – also would be beneficial for the industry.