The House and Senate reached a compromise today and agreed to forward to President Bush a six-year, $286.5 billion spending plan for highway and bridge construction, public transportation projects and safety programs.
After the House overwhelmingly approved the bill 412-8 early this morning (Friday), the Senate voted 91 to 4 in the afternoon to endorse the legislation and send it to the White House for the President’s signature.
President Bush repeatedly threatened to veto any spending package that would add to the federal deficit or increase taxes. He is expected to sign the compromise bill as early as next week (Aug. 1-6).
Delivery of the new transportation bill comes after an incubation period of nearly two years and 11 false labor pains – extensions of the previous bill.
Idaho Sens. Larry Craig and Mike Crapo, who were instrumental in securing Congressional approval of the compromise, announced Thursday that Idaho will receive $152.3 million for specific projects deemed critical to the state’s highways and roads.
“This bill is good for Idaho and the nation,” said Idaho Transportation Department Director Dave Ekern. “Idaho’s congressional delegation should be applauded for its work in advancing and providing the resources to address Idaho’s future.”
“Idaho’s transportation systems are vital to travel throughout the west,” said Crapo, a member of the Senate Finance Committee that is responsible for transportation-related tax issues.
“This funding not will not only allow local Idaho citizens safer and more efficient travel, but will also ensure those same benefits for tourists and commercial usages. Today, the Senate recognized Idaho’s important highway and transportation needs.”
Idaho’s Congressional delegation was successful in ensuring that the state’s vital transportation corridors, including U.S. 95, will remain eligible for federal funding under existing corridor programs, Ekern said.
"This legislation provides funds vital to building Idaho's infrastructure, boosting its economy, and increasing the safety of our highways,” Craig said following the vote. “These dollars will address the need to advance specific high priority projects all over the state, but will also support the goal of connecting our rural and urban areas."
Under the previous authorization, Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), Idaho received average annual funding of about $212.3 million, according to the Federal Highway Administration. The bill approved today by Congress increases the average annual spending authority to about $276.7 million, an increase of $64 million, or 30.32 percent.
TEA-21, a six-year $218 funding package, expired in 2003.
Congress passed a series of 11 extensions since then to continue short-term funding of transportation projects nationwide. The stopgap funding enabled Idaho to continue construction projects without major interruption, but it hampered the abilities of all states to engage in short- and long-term planning.
The long-anticipated transportation bill drew accolades from state transportation department leaders nationwide Friday.
“The passage of this bill will be a day to remember for all of us who provide mobility to Americans,” said Jack Lettiere, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation and President of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).
“It’s been a long time coming, but the bill will accelerate needed transportation projects, save lives, improve people’s quality of life, create jobs and improve many ways we do business.”
The bill includes $22 billion in congressionally designated projects, including $16 billion deemed high-priority and another $6.2 billion deemed projects of national and regional significance. The measure preserves the all-important funding guarantees and assures that if additional receipts become available they can be used for the highway program.
AASHTO identified other important provisions of the new bill, including:
In the area of environmental provisions it also:
“Progress takes time, but this bill represents strong progress and we’re very pleased with it,” said AASHTO Executive Director John Horsley. “With the certainty and funding this new law can provide, state transportation departments can finish out this construction season and plan with confidence for the next several years’ work.”
More than 18 percent of the reauthorization would be used for nationally for public transportation projects that include bus and train programs, public transit programs for national parks and special programs for the disabled.
Safety programs related to transportation will receive about $6 billion from the federal bill.
Two contentious issues that slowed Congressional accord were the overall spending limit and the distribution formula.
The House proposed during the last session of Congress spending up to $375 billion on transportation; the Senate sought to hold spending much closer to the 1998 authorization. They compromised on $286.4 billion.
Donor states – those that contribute more to the federal transportation budget in the form of federal fuel taxes than they receive back, wanted to increase the formula to 95 percent. That would have been achieved by reducing the percentage returned to donee states – small, rural states like Idaho that receive more back than they contribute.
The compromise bill increases the formula from 90.5 percent to at least 92 percent for donor states and does not diminish the percentage returned to donee states.