Details of transportation bill, possible 219 credits, remain hidden
The status of availability of toll credit funding necessary to complete Route 219 is uncertain. The four-lane portion of the road is pictured Wednesday near its end in Somerset. (Roger Vogel)
In July the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee announced a six-year transportation re-authorization proposal. Somerset County leaders are hoping the bill includes changes to allow toll credits that would be used as matching funds to finish Route 219 from Somerset to Meyersdale. The bill also funds other transportation projects.
But since the announcement a draft of the bill has not been released to the public.
Steve Martinko, legislative director for Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, who serves on the committee, said that chairman John L. Mica, R-Florida, will not release a draft of the bill until he is ready to move it on the floor.
"If you release it early that gives six months for everyone to pick it apart," he said. "It makes it a food fight."
Martinko explained that right now Congress is focused on the "super committee," a group of six Democrats and six Republicans looking into ways to slash the deficit.
"After they're done, in the new year we could see something," Martinko said.
One of the big questions about this bill is funding. There is less revenue coming into the Highway Trust Fund, which is funded by the federal gasoline tax.
"It's challenged," Martinko said. "We have people who are driving less, people have more fuel-efficient vehicles and electric cars. You have less money coming into the trust fund and you are spending more than comes into the trust fund. You have to find some way to rectify the situation."
Martinko said there are two options: cut funding or find additional revenue sources. He said groups outside Washington, D.C., have called for raising the federal gasoline tax, but it is not an option on the table. Lawmakers are also looking into oil and gas revenue if offshore drilling becomes an option.
He said House Speaker John Boehner has made positive comments about the fund and the need for a long-term transportation bill.
"That help's focus attention," said Jeff Urbanchuk, Shuster's spokesman.
But officials were mum about whether toll credit language is in the bill. In 2006 the toll credit language was changed to not allow Appalachian highways to use toll revenues as a state match on federal-aid projects such as Route 219. Shuster's goal is to change the toll credit language to allow states to count toll credits as the required state match for new highway construction.
Martinko said Shuster has been helping draft the legislation as a senior member of the committee.
"We've been heavily involved in drafting the bill," he said. "We received very positive feedback from Chairman Mica. Nothing is final until it is final. It is premature to say that something is in or out of the bill until it is introduced. We're very optimistic. We've received very positive feedback from the chairman."