US House passes massive $305 billion highway funding bill

The US House of Representatives has finally passed a robust round of highway funding after years of floundering on issues related to the nation's infrastructure and in particular, the Highway Trust Fund.

The $305-billion, bipartisan bill passed 359 to 65, and lays out a five-year funding plan that doles out the vast majority of funds to the all-important Highway Trust Fund. The $281 billion distribution will go towards work on roads, bridges, and mass-transit programs, Bloomberg reports, and will likely serve as a sigh of relief to local and state authorities. And you'll be happy to hear that this infusion of cash will come without an increase in the gas tax, which remains unchanged despite nationwide gas prices that are hovering around $2 a gallon.

Instead of jacking up the gas tax, $19 billion will be withdrawn from the Federal Reserve's $29.3-billion surplus account. According to Bloomberg, the plan also calls for the Fed to reduce the six-percent dividend paid to national banks to a figure tied to the yields on 10-year US Treasuries. In other words, banks would only get paid on Treasury yields up to six percent, a change that accounts for $6.9 billion. Another $6.2 billion would come from the sale of 66 million barrels of crude from the Strategic Petroleum Reserves. It's not clear where the other $273 billion would be sourced.

Beyond the Highway Trust Fund, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will finally get some additional funding for the pursuit of recalls and other vehicle safety issues. The bill also distributes $10.36 billion for rail- and freight-related projects and $12.2 billion for capital investment grants.

Finally, and perhaps only tangentially related to the main auto industry, is the return of the US Export-Import Bank. The Ex-Im Bank's charter had expired on June 30 of this year, but it's now been reauthorized through 2019.

The US Senate could vote on the bill on Thursday, while Congress has until Friday to put it on the president's desk. Even if that timeline doesn't work out, a temporary extension is a likely possibility.

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