U.S. House passes temporary extension of highway fund

West Virginia’s three lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of a temporary two-month extension of the nation’s federal highway fund, which is set to expire at the end of May.

With a 387-35 vote, the House passed H.R. 2353, which is known as the Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2015, on Tuesday in an attempt to extend the all-important funding mechanism.

The fund, which annually provides the state more than $400 million, plays an important role in helping pay for road projects throughout West Virginia.

The latest fix, which would expire on July 31, is necessary after Congress passed a temporary extension last fall. The current extension is set to expire on May 31.

Prior to Tuesday’s vote, Republican leaders in the House previously attempted to pass an extension that would have provided funding until the end of the year. But that effort failed, leading to the latest compromise.

Despite the latest temporary fix, West Virginia’s congressmen all called for a more permanent solution.

“We need a long-term surface transportation bill that invests in our nation’s infrastructure,” said Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va. “West Virginia, in particular, needs a strong federal commitment to ensure our state’s transportation needs are met, and our state and local governments need certainty in funding for long-term planning. I have consistently advocated for a multi-year surface transportation reauthorization package, and I will continue to work with leaders in Congress to see that our highways are properly funded.”

In a statement released on Tuesday, Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., said, “Voting ‘no’ wasn’t an option today, but Congress must develop a long-term solution to address our crumbling infrastructure and provide peace of mind to drivers in West Virginia. Short-term extensions like this merely kick the can down the road. The families and businesses we meet with throughout the First District know the role of good roads in creating jobs and that a permanent highway bill will put people to work.”

“Reliable and safe infrastructure is a pillar of a robust economy,” said Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va. “While I voted for this two month extension, I also support a longer term funding solution that does not raise taxes on hard working West Virginians.

“Since 2004, over $80 billion from the Highway Trust Fund has gone to projects not related to the construction and maintenance of highways. We must ensure our currently available funds are used for roads and bridges.”

A temporary solution to the federal highway fund is hardly a surprise to state officials.

“If it is extended it will be the 33rd time in six years,” said Brent Walker, state Department of Transportation. “We are no strangers to that.”

Although the department has had to get used to the lack of a longterm solution, Walker said a more permanent fix would be welcome.

Unless Congress acts before the end of the month, which Walker said he fully expects, the state would have to pay make difficult decisions, which could include not paying contractors.

“Everything that we do would have to be done with state monies,” he said. “And our state monies are really put toward maintenance, resurfacing and matching federal dollars.”

While Walker said the advancement of the latest extension, which still needs to pass through the Senate, is welcome news, he said, “We encourage our Congress to pass a longterm transportation bill.”

Contact writer Joel Ebert at joel.ebert@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4843. Follow him on twitter.com/joelebert29.

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