Having cleared the U.S. House Thursday by a staggering vote
of 417-9, the highway bill is headed to the Senate for debate.
The Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee is
scheduled to take up the full bill, HR3, next week.
The current extension of funding under the expired highway
bill only lasts until May 31. Observers on Capitol Hill expect it may take
until then for the bill to make its way through the Senate and back to a
conference committee for final approval.
Overall, the highway bill – being referred to as TEA-LU,
which is short for Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users – has a
guaranteed funding level of $284 billion for six years. That’s the magic number
that President Bush has said is enough. The White House has flatly stated that
any bill seeking more than $284 billion will be vetoed.
Even though the bill doesn’t provide the $318 billion that
House members initially sought, the chairman of the Transportation Committee
said it was one of the key measures Congress would handle this year.
will be the premier domestic legislation,” Chairman Don Young, R-AK, told The
Associated Press Thursday shortly before the 417-9 vote to approve the
six-year measure to fund highway, mass transit and safety programs.
said average drivers spend a week and a half every year stuck in traffic. He
also told The AP that the nation loses $67 billion in productivity and
wasted fuel every year because of highway congestion.
bill guarantees $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.
been trying to produce a new highway bill since the last plan, funded at $218
billion, expired in September 2003. Legislation stalled last year when Congress
couldn’t work out how to divide the money among the states.