Washington, D.C. – The U.S. House of Representatives has given final approval to a measure that would immediately appropriate US$8.017 billion of general revenue to the Highway Trust Fund. The bill is expected to be signed by President Bush.
The approval follows an earlier announcement by U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters that federal aid payments for road infrastructure would be rationed because of a shortage of federal funds, with distribution of federal highway funds to individual states made weekly instead of twice daily, and that states would likely receive a reduced percentage of their claims in future weeks if Congress did not put more money into the trust fund. Following the president’s expected approval of the bill, states will be able to restart hundreds of millions of dollars of construction projects that were put on hold following Peters’ announcement.
“This funding enables states to continue to finance highway projects that improve safety, ensure mobility, accessibility, increase the movement of people and goods, and promote a sound economy,” said Representative Bill Pascrell during floor debate. “Those states must be assured of the transportation funding pledged to them under federal law.”
Representative James Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, said approval of the bill restores US$8.017 billion to the fund that was siphoned off in a budget deal ten years ago. “None of that money went for highway projects, bridge projects, highway safety, or the transit needs of this country,” he said. “These were taxes paid at the pump by drivers all across the United States, but they have not been getting the benefit of it.”
Several Republicans spoke in opposition to the bill, saying that the Highway Trust Fund has bankrolled too many unnecessary projects.
Peters said that the trust fund faces a zero balance sooner than originally expected because Americans have sharply reduced driving and gas purchases due to high fuel prices, which in turn has led to a drop in gas tax collections, because the fee is assessed per gallon purchased.