Next week, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act - the Republican reauthorization of the Surface Transportation Bill.
The transportation bill has traditionally been a bipartisan blueprint for the future of our highway and mass-transit priorities; creating jobs and providing our cities and towns with the infrastructure necessary to attract economic development.
But House Republicans have abandoned the bipartisan consensus that has always existed with highway legislation by unveiling a partisan transportation bill that destroys jobs, rolls back safety standards and does not meet our country's infrastructure needs.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican lawmaker from Illinois, describes the Republican bill as, "…the most partisan transportation bill that I have ever seen. And it also is the most anti-safety bill I have ever seen. It hollows out our No. 1 priority, which is safety…It's the worst transportation bill I've ever seen during 35 years of public service."
The legislation does, however, include a repeal of language that prohibits states like Pennsylvania from using toll credits as state matching funds for federal transportation construction dollars. But do not be fooled, this bill will not help Pennsylvania or Somerset and Cambria counties.
This legislation cuts federal-aid highway funding by $15.8 billion from current levels. Pennsylvania's share of federal highway funding will be reduced by $948 million over the next five years, resulting in the loss of nearly 33,000 statewide jobs. Our roads and bridges are crumbling. PennDOT already has a difficult enough time meeting the current needs with the current resources – a nearly $1 billion cut would be devastating at a time when infrastructure improvements are so greatly needed.
This legislation has "Buy America" loopholes, allowing surface transportation jobs to be outsourced overseas. It even undermines public safety by cutting National Highway Traffic Safety Administration grant funding and eliminating OSHA protections for hazmat workers.
It guts a dedicated, user-fee financing for public transit and eliminates the current transportation enhancement set-aside. This particular program provides grants for bike paths and streetscape programs that benefit our local communities. Past examples include the Johnstown Inclined Plane rehabilitation project, the Path of the Flood Trail, the restored Meyersdale Western Maryland Railway Station, Somerset Hospital's streetscape project, the Salisbury Viaduct on the Allegheny Highlands Trail, the Ebensburg streetscape project, and the tunnel that carries the Great Allegheny Passage under State Route 2037 in Garrett Borough.
Even the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reports that the Republican transportation bill would bankrupt the Highway trust fund by 2016 – creating a $78 billion shortfall over ten years and jeopardizing critical transportation projects and American jobs.
To give you further sense of how bad this bill really is, the Republican Leadership lacks the votes even among Republican lawmakers to pass it. The bill was pulled from consideration last week, and instead, House Republican leaders were forced to split the transportation bill into three parts to try and increase its chance of passage.
What's more, President Obama has promised to veto the House legislation.
Luckily, the Senate's version of the Surface Transportation bill enjoys bipartisan support without the devastating effects in highway funding for our state. And, like the House version, the Senate legislation includes the repeal of the toll credit language that will help complete Route 219 south to I-68 in Maryland. This is great news for Somerset and Cambria counties, because it shows that both chambers of Congress support repeal of the toll credit language.
Make no mistake; the completion of Route 219 is a top priority of mine and a top priority of our other local elected officials. Since coming to Congress, I have co-sponsored legislation and have testified to the House Transportation Committee in support of repealing the toll credit language.
But I cannot, in good faith, support the House Republican's partisan gimmick that destroys jobs, rolls back safety standards and delays road construction and bridge repair. Since this legislation has no chance of becoming law, we must put politics aside and pass a transportation bill that will actually improve our national infrastructure and create American jobs. You can be certain that I'll keep fighting over the next month to ensure that when the final version of the transportation bill does emerge, it includes a repeal of the toll credit language that will allow us to complete Route 219.
(U.S. Rep. Mark Critz is a Democrat serving the 12th District which includes a portion of Somerset County.)