Archive for Friday, March 11, 2005

House passes $284 billion highway, mass transit bill

March 11, 2005


— The House approved a mammoth highway and transit bill Thursday that aims to reduce traffic congestion nationwide and bring jobs to every lawmaker's home district.

The White House said the bill was "long overdue" but warned, as the measure moved to the Senate, that it would be subject to a presidential veto if it rose above the $284 billion the House approved.

The bill, passed 417-9, would guarantee $225.5 billion over a six-year period to the Federal Highway Administration, $52.3 billion to the Federal Transit Administration and more than $6 billion for safety programs.

It will be "the signature domestic legislation in this Congress in terms of the positive impact on the economy of this country," said Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, a senior Democrat on the Transportation Committee.

Congress has been trying to produce a new highway bill since the last six-year plan, funded at $218 billion, expired in September 2003. But the legislation stalled last year when lawmakers couldn't work out a formula for dividing the money among the states and the White House issued a veto threat over spending levels it said would deepen the federal deficit.

On Wednesday the administration applauded the House bill but said President Bush would be advised to veto anything above $284 billion. It issued another veto threat over a clause in the bill requiring that it be reopened in the future, with the intent of adding more money, if goals aren't reached for making disbursement among the states more equitable.

"With the opener we have the opportunity to come back and do this again," said Rep. James Oberstar of Minnesota, top Democrat on the Transportation Committee and a leading proponent of more infrastructure spending.

Kansas is in line for $2.34 billion to spend on fixing roads and bridges over the next six years, its share of the federal highway and transit bill.The legislation calls for $8.5 million to replace a bridge over the Union Pacific railroad tracks on U.S. Highway 169 in Kansas City, Kan., and $5 million for construction of an interchange at Kansas Highway 7 and 55th Street/Johnson Drive in Johnson County.Other projects include $4 million for construction of interchanges on Interstates 435 and 35 in Johnson County.

Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, also said the House bill was inadequate to make inroads on a congestion problem that affects one-third of all travel on major roadways and results in $67 billion in lost productivity and wasted fuel annually.

"We probably need $500 billion to make sure this country keeps moving," he said.

Currently, states are guaranteed 90.5 cents back for every dollar they contribute, through the federal gas tax, to the federal highway trust fund. "Donor" states that pay more than they get back -- many of them in the fast-growing South and Southwest -- are demanding a minimum guarantee of 95 percent.

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