WASHINGTON - The House Appropriations Committee approved legislation yesterday that would provide $38.3 billion for transportation projects in fiscal 1995, including $19.8 billion for highways and $4.7 billion for mass transit.
The amount included for highways in the fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1, is $162 million below current-year levels, but the funding included for transit projects is $141 million over 1994 levels.
The funding for both highway and transit projects is well below the amounts requested by the Clinton Administration in its budget plan, which was submitted to Congress last February Highway funding is $385 million less than requested and mass transit funding $41.5 million below requested levels.
Total funding for transportation falls $178.6 million below the administration's requested levels, but is $63.6 million more than current levels.
The "whole national highway system is shortchanged" by this appropriations bill, said Jim Martin, the director of state-federal relations for the National Governors' Association.
The cuts in highway construction funding indicate that "there is no long-term commitment" to highway construction, Martin said. "I think there is a crisis in highway finance," he said.
The coalition of groups working for highway funding "is not effective anymore," Martin said. "There needs to be a whole new, vibrant coalition [working] for highway finance."
Discretionary spending is up against tight budget caps for fiscal 1995, and "highway programs took the biggest rap because infrastructure is not a priority," Martin said. Infrastructure is "at the bottom of the list for the administration" compared to programs like Head Start and School-to-Work, he said.
Member of Congress are using the little bits of highway funding they do get for demonstration projects in specific states instead of fully funding the sweeping 1991 transportation bill, Martin said. He said the lawmakers were funding the demonstration projects to advance their re-election efforts.
"If transportation groups don't get together to fight for their souls, they will be eaten up," Martin said, citing stories in local papers that the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority has been ordered by the U.S. Transportation Department to pull up 18 miles of granite on station platforms and replace it with "plastic bumps making people trip and fall into the tracks," he said. "Can you imagine how much will cost to replace 18 miles of granite?"
The plastic edges are designed so that blind people will be able to tell when they are near the edge of the platform.