Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
August 23, 2014

Highway Trust Fund Talks, Hearing on Outer Continental Shelf, and ‘Intelligent Compaction’ on Week’s Agenda

This week the biggest event in transportation policy could come from the chairmen of the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee if they reach agreement on revenue-raising measures to refill the Highway Trust Fund until the end of the year, or at least until after Election Day.

When we left this drama on June 26, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Ron Wyden, D –Ore., suspended his committee’s markup of a bill to provide new financing for the fund while he and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., tried to find common ground.


“I will be reaching out to Chairman Camp to find out how the House plans to pay for this legislation; whether there are items in their package that the Finance Committee can agree to,” Wyden told his members.

The Oregon Democrat said he’d work closely with Finance Committee ranking Republican Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah in talks with Camp “and reconvene the markup early during the week of July 7” — that’s this week.

“I’m confident that working with Chairman Camp, we can find a suitable path forward,” Hatch said. But no markup of a bill to replenish the trust fund has yet been announced.

Meanwhile Monday afternoon in Lafayette, La., the price of gasoline is indirectly at issue as the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a field hearing on energy exploration on the Outer Continental Shelf.

Louisiana is the home of the chair of the Energy Committee, Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, who is up for re-election this November. According to the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call rating, Landrieu’s race against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy is a tossup.

The witnesses Monday include the acting head of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which handles oil and gas leases on the Outer Continental Shelf, and executives from oil exploration and drilling firms including Louisiana-based driller LLOG Exploration.

Landrieu’s hearing comes after the House on June 26 passed a bill called the “Lowering Gasoline Prices to Fuel an America That Works Act” which directs Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to offer expanded leasing opportunities within parts of the Outer Continental Shelf that have the largest undiscovered, technically recoverable reserves of oil and gas.

Of course, who controls both energy policy and transportation policy hinges on who has the majority in the Senate next year.

On Wednesday President Barack Obama will be in Denver to try to preserve his party’s Senate majority by starring at a fundraiser for another Energy Committee member, Sen. Mark Udall, who faces a competitive race against Rep. Cory Gardner. This race leans Democratic according to the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call rating.

Udall and Gardner agree that the Energy Department’s decisions on exporting liquefied natural gas and approving LNG terminals should be speeded up. Gardner’s bill to expedite LNG exports passed the House two weeks ago. Udall has sponsored a Senate bill with Landrieu to expedite the LNG approval process.

We’ve reported on intelligent transportation systems and intelligent vehicles. But how about intelligent road building? On Wednesday and Thursday, the Oregon Department of Transportation, in concert with the Federal Highway Administration, will hold a two-day event at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore. to discuss Intelligent Construction Systems and Technologies.

Highway building has way gone beyond simply laying down concrete or asphalt – on the agenda for the conference is “Intelligent Compaction” — using rollers equipped with Global Positioning Systems (GPS), onboard computer reporting systems, and thermal sensors to ensure that the road or highway is built to specifications.

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