WASHINGTON -- Legislation reauthorizing airport construction grants through fiscal 1996 is on its way to the White House for the president's signature.

The bill, passed by voice vote in the House and Senate on Monday, authorizes $6.5 billion in construction grants over three years.

Final approval came after House and Senate conferees agreed last week to drop a controversial provision that would have diverted disputed airport fees into an escrow fund for up to four months. Some municipal market analysts had said the diversion of funds could jeopardize airport bond ratings.

Under the final bill, if an airline challenged an airport-imposed fee increase, the airline would be required to continue paying the fee while the transportation secretary decides whether it is reasonable. If the secretary found the fee unreasonable, the airport would repay the disputed fees.

The reauthorization bill had been in a holding pattern over the Senate since last fall because lawmakers had been unable to reach a compromise on airport fee regulations. The House passed its version of the bill last October.

Congress pushed through an $800 million stop-gap measure in the spring that allowed a resumption of grants, but the measure expired at the end of June.

Because President Clinton is expected to sign the bill, airports are virtually assured of receiving their grant money in time for the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

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