As congressional staffers were putting finishing touches on a long-delayed, multi-year transportation bill, the House and Senate approved, and President Bush signed into law, yet another stopgap measure to continue the flow of federal highway and transit funds through July 30. The latest extension, which Bush signed July 28 and Congress cleared the previous day, is the 11th stopgap since September 2003.

Sources said lawmakers expected to file the detailed conference report on the new multi-year bill sometime July 28 and gain House and Senate approval of the measure by the end of the week.

The new bill's total guaranteed funding obligations appeared set at $286.4 billion for the six-year period 2004 through 2009, but authorizations, which include non-guaranteed funds, were expected to total $295 billion. The additional $8.6 billion in non-guaranteed authorizations was needed to increase donor states' highway-aid returns on their fuel taxes paid.

Donors will see their assured returns rise from 90.5% now, to 91.5% in 2007 and 92% in 2008 and 2009. Donors had been seeking the 92% level earlier than 2008 but agreed to compromise.

Further complicating the arithmetic, the White House was said to have convinced conferees to rescind about $9 billion in other highway funds, but one Washington source said that rescission wouldn't take effect until the end of fiscal year 2009.
The new bill's $286.4 billion in guaranteed funding represents a 38% gain over the $208 billion provided by the previous six-year statute, the 1998 Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century.

Although the many short-term extensions have kept highway and transit programs operating and continued to provide funds to states and transit agencies, once the new multi-year measure is enacted, it will increase the shares of the total highway pie for some states and cut back on the shares of others.