The US House of Representatives voted 376-29 to give final approval to a measure that would immediately appropriate US$8.017 billion of general revenue to the Highway Trust Fund, sending the bill to President Bush for his expected signature.
The House originally passed the bill, HR 6532, on July 23. Senators approved it by voice vote Wednesday evening, amending the legislation to make it effective upon the president's signature rather than on Sept. 30. The House today concurred with the Senate amendment and sent the bill to the White House.
Rep. James Oberstar, D-MN and chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, said approval of the bill restores to the Highway Trust Fund $8.017 billion that was siphoned off in a budget deal 10 years ago.
Following Bush’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 this week as a result of the announcement last Friday by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) that it will not only reduce the distribution of payments to the states from twice daily to once a week, it will also proportionately reduce the amount of those payments, based upon available revenue.
US Department of Transportation (DOT) officials said states may receive only 70% reimbursement of their claims, or less.
According to DOT officials, the FHWA on an average day transfers $185 million to the states, increasing to $250 million a day in the busy summer construction season. Under the FHWA’s plan, transfers would decrease by $55 million daily, or $277.5 million per week.
Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters had urged Congress to appropriate more money to resolve the crisis by the end of this week. She said the trust fund faces a zero balance sooner than originally expected because Americans have sharply reduced driving and gas purchases this year because of high prices at the pump. That in turn has led to a drop in gas-tax collections because the fee is assessed per gallon purchased.