House OKs highway bill at $284 billion level

| Thursday, March 10, 2005

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.

“This 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.

Young 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.

The 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.

Congress has 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.