The U.S. House's six-year bill for highways includes money for dedicated truck lanes and funds for states to improve their CDL programs.
A bill announced Nov. 19 by Rep. Don Young, R-AK, calls for spending $375 billion the next six years (FY 2004-2009) for U.S. highways and transit - more than what either the Bush administration and the Senate are willing to spend.
To pay for his bill, Young, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said he would raise the gas tax by indexing it to inflation, but the Bush administration and other Republican legislators vigorously oppose that idea.
The question of how the money will be raised, including the contentious issue of whether to hike the federal fuel tax, known as a user fee, will not be resolved until the House Ways and Means Committee takes up the bill early next year.
Young called his new bill the Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, or "TEA-LU," to honor his wife, Lu. The measure calls for a 72 percent increase over total funding for TEA 21 (1998-2003); and a 52 percent increase over the total funding in the administration's current SAFETEA reauthorization bill. Bush wants a $247 billion package; The U.S. Senate has proposed spending $311 billion.
Young's proposal contains programs to relieve congestion, increase safety, boost freight mobility, improve the national infrastructure and help transit - all in an effort to boost employment, which in turn would add to federal, state and local tax revenue.
So what's new?
Overall, all states are guaranteed a 95 percent minimum return from federal highway formula programs by 2009 - an increase from 90.5 percent.
The bill includes a $3 billion formula construction program targeted at improving road connections to and from freight facilities; and a $2 billion formula program aimed at border regions to improve infrastructure facilities, highways and operational improvements "to facilitate motor vehicle and freight transportation."
Young also would spend $139 million to set up a grant program over six years intended for state licensing agencies to improve their commercial driver's license program.
A spokesman for Rep. Young's office told Land Line the CDL grants may be used to improve training, computer software and hardware, publications, testing, quality control and to hire personnel.
In addition, Young is asking for a $1.5 billion program to fund the construction of dedicated truck lanes to improve the "safe and efficient movement of freight by separating truck traffic from traffic in regular lanes."
The bill also would set up a $203 million grant program to ensure enhanced state enforcement activities at the borders with Mexico and Canada.
-- by Dick Larsen, senior editor