House, Senate committee approve revived transportation bill

The long-awaited federal transportation bill gained momentum March 16 with passage by the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, but could face a veto from President Bush.

The push for a new transportation bill – a successor of a 1998 bill that has been continuously extended since expiring last year – began March 10 with overwhelming approval from the House of Representatives. That $284 billion, six-year measure was boosted to $318 billion by the Senate, which is beyond the $256 billion limit Bush originally requested.

If Bush signs the bill, it would fund highways, bridges, road improvements, mass transit and safety programs – all carrying a potentially significant benefit for the construction industry.

Dave Bauer, vice president of government relations for the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, said the bill needs more money to be effective. He said many politicians are comparing the bill’s cost to its previous version, which doesn’t account for significant changes in the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

“Virtually every member [of the House] has said it doesn’t have enough money,” Bauer said. “People [should] look at the bill on its merits, on what it could actually accomplish.”

The American Society of Civil Engineers, a group keeping tabs on the nation’s transportation infrastructure, determined in itsr “2005 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure” that the government would need to spend nearly $1.6 trillion during a five-year period to address every problem it currently faces. The organization gave the nation a “D” average in 12 infrastructure categories for 2005.

Many Senate lawmakers voted for the bill’s passage because of the estimated 1.6 million jobs it could create.

Bauer said the potential benefits could be far greater. He said the bill’s immediate impact will be with contractors who design and build transportation infrastructure, but it wouldn’t stop there.

“[The bill] will impact our entire economy,” he said. “This isn’t going to benefit one part of the population, and you shouldn’t really think about it this way.”

Patrick Beeson can be contacted at