Today the House approved the Conference Report on H.R. 4348: the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012, the reauthorization of road, bridge and highway programs that has been extended nine times. H.R. 4348 authorizes $105 billion in funding for highway and transit programs through Fiscal Year 2014. Of that $105 billion, Massachusetts will receive $1.2 billion for highways and $700 million for transit for a total of $1.9 billion over two years.
Massachusetts fares better than most other states. In terms of federal dollars, Massachusetts is one of only three states and the District of Columbia that will see an increase in total annual funding.
“Although this is not the bill I would have written, due to the current fiscal climate and Republican resistance to seeking increased funding for transportation, I think it’s an acceptable compromise that will bring millions of dollars into Massachusetts over the next two years,” stated Rep. Mike Capuano, a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
H.R. 4348 will provide economic benefits and create jobs. For every $1 billion in federal funds spent on highways and transit, more than 34,000 jobs are created or sustained. H.R. 4348 also includes Rep. Capuano’s tunnel inspection provisions. He has filed a bill three times to establish a nationwide highway tunnel inspection program modeled after the existing bridge inspection program. It has passed in the House and been included in previous transportation bills, but it has never become law. That will finally change when President Obama signs H.R. 4348.
Rep. Capuano first filed the bill in January of 2007. After the tragic July 10, 2006 death of Milena Del Valle due to a falling ceiling panel in a Big Dig tunnel, many questions were raised, including questions about inspections. There were no national standards or requirements for inspecting highway tunnels. Instead, the responsibility was with the tunnel owners, who had the authority to determine how and when their tunnels would be inspected. In simplest terms, Rep. Capuano’s legislation creates a Nationwide Tunnel Inspection Program modeled after the existing Nationwide Bridge Inspection Program. It directs the Secretary of Transportation to establish minimum inspection requirements for tunnels, including the maximum amount of time permitted between inspections and the manner in which they will be carried out. The Secretary will also establish inspector qualifications, create a national certification program for inspectors and implement a program to ensure they are properly trained.
“I am very pleased that this program will finally become a reality. It will give us a much better understanding of the condition of our highway tunnels so that potential problems can be addressed in a timely fashion,” stated Rep. Capuano.
The Conference Report also includes a one year delay in the interest rate hike on federal student loans, which was scheduled to go from 3.4% to 6.8% on Sunday. President Obama is expected to sign the legislation today or tomorrow, after Senate passage.