Congress gets serious on roads


The terrorist attack in San Bernardino naturally overshadowed every other event for days, including a surprising achievement by Congress.

It passed a transportation funding bill.

And we don't mean the usual short-term, kick-the-can-down-the-road sort of bill for which Congress has been notorious when it funds highways and transit, and which sometimes have only extended the revenue stream for a couple of months.

No, Congress passed a five-year, $305 billion bill that is the longest such extension since the 20th century. And it did so in strikingly bipartisan fashion, with large majorities supporting the bill in both chambers.

It is not a perfect bill by any means.

Still, the length of the extension alone is reason to celebrate, as disputes over funding had become a recurring sign of congressional dysfunction — now resolved at least in this case.

We'd have preferred Congress tap additional revenue in the form of a modest gas-tax hike to cover a greater part of the expenditures — and with oil prices at a near seven-year low, there couldn't be a better time to minimize the impact on consumers.

But there is little political appetite for such an approach, even though revenues have stagnated because of growing vehicle fuel economy. Instead, the bill plucks $70 billion in general tax revenue to supplement gas and diesel taxes.

As transportation expert Ken Orski noted in his news letter, "The 'user pays' principle that was the philosophic foundation of the federal-aid highway program for the past 60 years" has been discarded.

All in all, it's a major accomplishment given the worrisome state of the nation's infrastructure.

— The Denver Post


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