WASHINGTON-Both the House and Senate National Highway System (NHS) bills contain different compromises to retain at least some government funding of rubberized asphalt projects. A Clinton administration push for expedited NHS designation in the transportation appropriations bill, however, could prevent passage of either alternative.
Under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, Congress must designate nearly 16,000 miles of roads as the National Highway System by Sept. 30 if the states are to receive the $6.5 billion allocated in ISTEA for maintaining those roads.
Also part of ISTEA is Section 1038, which makes provisions for the increased use of crumb-rubber-modified asphalt by state highway departments.
The most controversial part of Section 1038 is Subsection (d), which sets annually expanding quotas of asphalt rubber for states through fiscal year 1997. Meeting these percentage quotas is a prerequisite for continuing to receive federal highway funds.
Acting on complaints from state highway officials and conventional asphalt manufacturers, Congress has approved amendments to recent Transportation Department appropriations bills. These bar the Federal Highway Administration from using any of its funds to implement or enforce Section 1038.
The Senate and House NHS bills try to reach a compromise by repealing Section 1038(d), while retaining other subsections covering funds for research and technology transfer in rubberized asphalt.
The Senate bill also calls on the FHWA to develop testing procedures for rubberized asphalt and conduct research to develop ``performance grade classifications.''
Whether either version will become law is unclear. The fiscal 1996 DOT appropriations package contains a three-paragraph provision granting the NHS designation.
Transportation Secretary Federico Pena has said he supports using the DOT appropriations package for NHS designation. Unfortunately for advocates of asphalt rubber, the DOT appropriations bill continues the moratorium on Section 1038, with no provisions for research or technology transfer.
Complicating the issue is the stated hope of Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, to make the NHS bill a vehicle for early reauthorization of ISTEA. Mr. Shuster's committee approved its NHS package Sept. 8.
Sean Reed, an official of the Rubber Pavements Association, characterized Mr. Shuster's plan as ``risky.'' ``The line between authorization and appropriation could become severely blurred through Shuster's strategy,'' Mr. Reed said. ``It's hard to say what will happen to our issue.''