FAA Shutdown Averted in the Senate; Dems Agree to Give States Discretion on Bike and Pedestrian Projects

(Washington, DC) Senators have reached an agreement allowing Congress to temporarily authorize federal transportation law and also avoid another shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Senators on Thursday evening agreed to move ahead with a combined bill temporarily re-authorizing both the FAA and federal surface transportation legislation known as SAFETEA-LU. The bills were being held up by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) who wanted to cut a section of the bill mandating spending on non-vehicular "enhancement" transportation projects like pedestrian paths and bike lanes.

Coburn temporarily used procedural maneuvers to prevent the bill from reaching the Senate floor. But Coburn agreed to lift his objections under a deal reached Thursday evening. In exchange, a permanent highway bill currently in House-Senate negotiations will contain language allowing states to opt-out of giving states more flexibility on "enhancement" spending mandates.

About 60 percent of funds under that provision, known as Transportation Enhancements, go to biking and pedestrian projects. Other uses range widely.

Both Coburn and Senate Democratic aides confirmed the deal.

FAA's current authorization is due to expire Friday at midnight. The FAA shut down for several days early last month because of House-Senate agreements on labor rules and rural air subsidies. This week's brief  standoff raised the prospect of a second FAA shutdown, which leaders of both parties were trying to avoid.

The bill extends FAA's authorization until January 31st and the highway bill until the end of March.