Leaders of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee have struck a deal on the major elements of a $255-billion, six-year highway bill, which they plan to bring to a vote by the committee on Nov. 5. The proposal would be a successor to the highway title of the 1998 Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. But the lawmakers also said a floor vote wouldn't occur on the measure until early in 2004.
The agreement was announced Oct. 23 by committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla), ranking minority member James Jeffords (I-Vt.) and transportation subcommittee Chairman Christopher Bond (R-Mo,) and top subcommittee Democrat Harry Reid (Nev.).
Bond said the proposal includes a guarantee that all states would receive at least 95 cents in federal highway aid for every dollar their motorists pay in fuel taxes into the Highway Trust Fund. That provision, a victory for "donor states" such as Missouri, compares with a guaranteed return of 90.5 cents under TEA-21.
The four lawmakers said in a joint statement that they had "reached bipartisan agreement on the major issues surrounding the bill...." They also said, "We all agree that this legislation is a top priority for this committee, and so we have worked together for several months to find common ground."
Provisions dealing with funding and policy for mass transit and highway safety fall under other Senate committees' jurisdiction and would have to be attached to the highway title.
The Senate committee leaders' $255 billion for highways represents an increase over the Bush administration's proposed $201 billion, but it probably falls short of what House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) is seeking for roads in his $375-billion transportation plan.
TEA-21 expired on Sept. 30 and the highway program is operating under an extension that runs out on Feb. 29.
(Photos courtesy of the office of Sen. James Inhofe; Office of Sen. James Jeffords)