WASHINGTON - The House overwhelmingly approved legislation yesterday that would authorize spending $2 billion over three years for selected highway, bridge, and transit projects.
The bill, passed on a 412-12 vote, would give funding priority to roughly 160,000 miles of highways Congress was required to designate as the National Highway System under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991.
The measure now goes to the Senate, which plans to draft its version of the legislation this summer.
Once both houses of Congress agree on a final bill, and President Clinton signs it, the highway portion of the sweeping 1991 legislation will be fully funded, said Eric Federing, press secretary for the House Public Works and Transportation Committee, which bought the bill to the House floor.
Any new highway infrastructure funding states receive "will have a positive effect [on the bond market]," said Roger Davis, an attorney with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.
The legislation was designed to look at the 1991 surface transportation law in mid-course and see if any improvements were needed, said Rep. Norman Y. Mineta, D-Calif., chairman of the Public Works and Transportation Committee.
The bipartisan national highway bill includes some technical corrections and minor policy changes, as well as the "reprogramming" of certain funding, Mineta said during House debate.
Several amendments were accepted and voted on as a group, including a measure that would require states to get guarantees on workmanship and materials from contractors working on roads paid for with federal funds.
The House also approved an amendment offered by Rep. James A. Traficant, D-Ohio, to study whether federal funds could be used to pay the full cost of constructing highway rest stops. Citing the miles between exits on many highways, Traficant said more rest stops are needed for weary travelers, especially for 18-wheel truck drivers, to prevent them from falling asleep at the wheel.
But one amendment was rejected outright. The amendment, offered by Rep. Bob Clement, R-Tenn., would have rerouted a highway system stretching from Canada to Mexico and passing through his state. Because the highway is still under construction, Clement thought it would be easy enough to reroute. But members from neighboring states, whose districts the highway would pass through, objected.
The bill is a "historical piece of legislation" said Bud Shuster of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Public Works and Transportation Committee. The drafting of the bill was "bipartisanship at its very best," he said.
Rep. J.J. Pickle, D-Tex., also supported the bill, saying that transportation has changed so much in the last 50 to 75 years that there is no way to know how it will change in the next 50 years. But one thing is certain, Pickle said: "We will be moving people to and from airports and train stations quite differently than we are today." People may be "stepping into laser beams," and we may be "faxing people to the airport," he said. The Public Works Committee must keep looking to trends in transportation modernization, Pickle said.
The Senate plans to hold hearings and complete a mark-up on the bill about mid-summer, said Deborah DeYoung, press secretary for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. But the Senate version of the bill may be quite different from the House version, which outlines approximately 300 specific projects for funding, she said.
The House bill is filed with pork barrel spending, one Senate aide said, and the Senate plans to pass legislation with no funding beyond what is approved in the 1991 surface transportation law, which designates funding levels through fiscal 1997. The federal fiscal year begins Oct. 1.