The Senate has approved legislation that would increase federal highway and transit funding in fiscal year 2008, but turned back a proposal to waive Davis–Bacon wage requirements on projects to upgrade deficient bridges.
The Senate passed the DOT–Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill on Sept. 12 on a strong 88–7 vote, despite a veto threat from the White House.
The DOT–HUD measure would set the 2008 federal–aid highway obligation limit at $40.2 billion, plus an additional $1 billion for the bridge rehabilitation program. Counting the added bridge funds, highway obligations would be 5% higher than this year's level.
The spending bill also would provide $9.6 billion in 2008 for the Federal Transit Administration, up 7% from 2007, and freeze the Federal Aviation Administration's airport grant program at 2007's $3.5 billion.
Before approving the overall bill, the Senate blocked an amendment offered by Sen. Jim DeMint (R–S.C.) that would have waived Davis–Bacon Act prevailing–wage requirements on construction or maintenance projects for bridges rated as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. DeMint's proposal was tabled by a 56–37 vote.
Lawmakers did approve an amendment from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.) to appropriate $195 million to build a replacement for the I–35W bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis on Aug. 1. Congress has authorized $250 million to clean up the bridge site and construct a new bridge, but only $55 million has been appropriated so far.
The Senate bill next must be reconciled with the version that the House passed in July. The House measure doesn't have the Senate's additional $1 billion in bridge funding, but it provides $146 million more for FTA and $86 million more for FAA airport grants than the Senate bill.
With passage of the DOT–HUD bill, the Senate has cleared four of the 12 annual appropriations measures for 2008. The House has approved all 12. None of the 12 has been enacted so far, however. With the Oct. 1 start of fiscal 2008 drawing near, a stopgap funding measure will be needed to keep federal agencies operating.