- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2005


The House put aside partisan battles yesterday to support a huge highway and transit measure that will foster jobs, improve roads and, not incidentally, bring projects to every member’s district.

The six-year, $284 billion measure, expected to pass by a wide margin today, will help states and federal agencies build new roads, repair bridges, expand public transit and advance safety measures with a goal of reducing the 42,000 in annual traffic fatalities and some of the $67 billion in lost productivity caused by congestion.

Congress has been unable to move a highway bill in the 18 months since the last six-year bill, funded at $218 billion, expired in September 2003. Last year, the White House threatened to veto House and Senate proposals to significantly increase infrastructure spending, saying it would not accept any bill that raised the federal deficit.

This year the White House supports the $284 billion figure, which is paid for through the highway trust fund derived from the federal tax on gasoline, although yesterday it again levied a veto threat against any legislation that goes above that level.

The Senate, which will consider the bill at committee level next week, generally favors a higher number. Also still to be resolved is a way to meet the complaints of states that are unhappy about paying more into the highway trust fund than they get back in federal grants.

The White House issued a second veto threat over a provision that would require Congress to reopen debate on the act — with the objective of approving more money — if states don’t get a minimum of 95 percent rate of return by 2009. Under the old bill, the minimum guarantee is 90.5 percent.

The Senate is also unenthusiastic about special projects included in the House bill at the request of members seeking to bring federal dollars home to their districts. Taxpayers for Common Sense says the House bill contains 3,736 such projects worth a total of more than $10 billion.

The projects range from $45 million to expand an interstate highway in Florida to $500,000 for sidewalks and landscaping in Glennville, Ga., to $50,000 to enhance road facilities near the Brooklyn Children’s Museum in New York.

Overall, the legislation would guarantee funds of $225.5 billion for the Federal Highway Administration, $52.3 billion for the Federal Transit Administration and more than $6 billion for safety programs.

The measure also carves out $590 million from the $284 billion in funding for a new program for high-risk rural roads, where 61 percent of all highway-related fatalities occur and $634 million in incentive grants to help states combat alcohol and illegal-drug use by drivers. It also would call for $830 million for a new program to fund the construction of dedicated truck lanes.

Rep. John Boozman, Arkansas Republican, whose district includes Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s headquarters, withdrew a proposed amendment that would have extended the workday for truckers to 16 hours as long as that included an unpaid two-hour break.

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