What is the DRIVE Act? And why should Wisconsinites care that it has passed the Senate?

A long-term, bipartisan highway bill, known as the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act (DRIVE), passed the U.S. Senate last week by a vote of 65-34, with Senator Johnson's support. The bill reauthorizes our country’s surface transportation and road safety programs for six years.

Why is the DRIVE Act such a big deal?

This is the longest multi-year highway funding measure to pass the Senate in a decade. Not since 2005 has the Senate been able to agree on a long-term bill.  In fact, since 2009, Congress has passed more than 30 patches and shorter-term extensions to keep the funding flowing so that infrastructure projects can continue.

Will the DRIVE Act raise gas taxes?

Not one penny.  It keeps the federal excise tax on regular gasoline at $18.3 cents per gallon, where it’s been since 1993.  Wisconsin’s gas tax currently stands at $30.9 cents per gallon, where it’s been since 2006.

How close is Congress to reaching a final agreement?

It’s tough to say.  The stage is set for a deal with the House of Representatives, because along with the DRIVE Act, the Senate and the House both approved a three-month extension, which has already been signed into law.  The moves will allow House members time to review the DRIVE Act and work with the Senate to craft a final bipartisan, long-term surface transportation bill that can achieve support from both chambers and earn the president’s signature.  Unfortunately, if the House and the Senate can’t reach a final long-term agreement by the end of October, another extension will need to be passed.

What kind of positive impact can Wisconsin expect to see if a long-term highway bill becomes law?

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and its various divisions provide regulation, supervision and funding for Wisconsin’s transportation system.  So the positive impact of a long-term highway bill comes from the fact that the Wisconsin DOT and those involved in our state’s transportation and road construction industries would have greater ability to plan their budgets and capital purchases for more than a few months at a time.  Knowing what dollars and regulatory directions are coming from the federal government from now until 2021, buys local governments and businesses greater stability.   The real positive impact on motorists will be realized as more necessary transportation projects, large interstate projects, as well as smaller, local road repairs, are planned and executed on-time and on-budget. 

So what’s the bottom line?

This is a huge, positive step forward for the U.S. Senate.  For the first time in a decade, the Senate has passed a long-term highway funding bill, and with bipartisan support.  We still need to wait to see what the House produces, and then ultimately negotiate to resolve the differences.  And after the details are settled, proponents will still need to get the president to sign the bill into law.  However, the Senate has taken a step in the right direction, and for that, we should all take note. 

If you would like more information, please contact Senator Johnson’s transportation legislative assistant at (202) 224-5323.