Things came uncomfortably close to a transportation funding crisis, but Congress approved and President Bush has signed into law a two-month extension for the federal highway and transit programs. Bush signed the bill on Feb. 29, thus allowing transportation funds to continue flowing, but only through April 30.
The action by Congress and the President averted a virtual shutdown of the Federal Highway and Federal Transit Administrations at midnight Feb. 29, when the current authorization--itself an extension of the expired Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century--was to lapse. Without the funding extension, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta warned he would have had to furlough about 5,000 workers at his department.
The final congressional action came Feb. 27 when the Senate approved the legislation. The House had passed the same bill the day before. But the issue was in doubt for much of Feb. 27 in the Senate. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) held up the two-month transport bill until they got assurance that Congress also would extend the deadline for a report by the commission studying the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, an industry source said. When they apparently were satisfied, McCain and Lieberman dropped their holds on the transportation extension and the Senate passed it.
The latest extension gives lawmakers several more weeks to work on a multi-year transportation bill. The previous long-term statute, TEA-21, ran out last Sept. 30. That necessitated one extension at that point, and now an extension to that extension.
After the Senate approved the two-month bill, Mineta said, "With the issue of a temporary extension behind us, we now can return our attention to the passage of a fiscally responsible, six-year surface transportation bill."