Deadline passes for six-year highway bill funding

| 9/25/2003

Congress will miss its Sept. 30 deadline to enact a highway and transit funding bill, a delay states say could cost 90,000 people their jobs and heap billions of dollars in extra construction costs on states because of delays, Gannett News Service reported.

 The House of Representatives and Senate are wrangling over the bill, which will run over six years. The last highway bill was a $203 billion, six-year measure enacted in 1998. The Senate proposed $311 billion for the new legislation. A House proposal would raise the gas tax, among other things, to pay for a $375 billion highway bill. The White House proposed spending $247 billion.

 Lawmakers are moving to extend the current funding program several months while they debate whether to raise the 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax to pay for a significant increase in highway aid.

 "Our failure to pass a highway bill is a disservice to the American people," said Sen. Max Baucus, D-MT, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which endorsed a five-month extension Sept. 23.

 Even a five- or six-month extension is going to cost, according to a survey released this month by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. The survey found that states predicted at least $2.1 billion in increased costs due to delays and the loss of 90,000 construction-related jobs.

 Contracts normally awarded this fall will be held until the spring — assuming Washington passes a six-year bill by then. That will probably force delays of up to a year because construction schedules could extend into winter, when little work takes place.