Last updated: 02:35 PM ET, Fri November 06 2015

House Highway Bill Creates Winners, Losers in Travel Industry

Airlines & Airports | Rich Thomaselli | November 06, 2015

House Highway Bill Creates Winners, Losers in Travel Industry

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a highway bill with a vote of 363-64, but like any bill on the floor it still needs to marry up with the Senate version before it goes to the President – and, also like any bill, it has made some people happy and others not-so-happy, especially in the travel industry.

Several proposals in the bill were backed by the travel industry, including a provision encouraging local and state transportation planners to seek input from travel and tourism leaders before advancing projects, and a measure creating a national commission on travel infrastructure to ensure that the country's transportation resources are marshalled effectively to support the economically vital travel and tourism sector.

The bill set the agenda for the next six years for the planning, building and improvement of U.S. highways, bridges and transit programs, although it only provides funding for three of those six years.

The current short-term extension of the highway bill expires on Nov. 20, making Congress anxious to get it on President Obama’s desk before Thanksgiving.

"This bill is absolutely critical to America and our economy," Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said in a statement. Shuster is the chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. "Transportation, in particular our surface transportation system, has a direct impact on our day-to-day quality of life. It affects how we get to work, how we get our kids home from school, and how much time we can spend with our families and friends instead of sitting in traffic. Transportation allows our country and our businesses to be competitive."

U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow applauded the bill.

“Providing certainty in the infrastructure sphere is going to shift our economic recovery into a higher gear,” Dow said in a statement. “This bill acknowledges the need to prioritize travel as an industry, because we are among the top sectors in creating activity and jobs on every rung of the economic ladder and in every corner of the country. We've been stating the case for years that a little investment in travel returns massive and broad-based dividends—really, the empirical data on this simply cannot be denied—and the House bill is evidence that political leaders listen and act upon good sense."

What is angering some in the travel industry, however, is a proposal to include more than $9 billion collected from federal security taxes on airline tickets to divert toward the highway trust fund.

Speaking at the International Aviation Club in Washington on Wednesday, Airlines For America president and CEO Nick Calio seemed resigned to the fact that the proposal will be included on the final bill, saying “airline passengers are on the hook it appears,” according to Air Transport World.

Calio is concerned such a measure will spill over to the state and local level, and noted that such a proposal is on the table now in Chicago, where some lawmakers want to place a $1 tax on every passenger coming through O’Hare and Midway airports to help fund a larger police force in the city.

“If the federal government can take airport revenue to pave highways, the city of Chicago should be able to take airport revenue to save lives” by hiring more police, alderman Matt O’Shea said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

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