Will $284 billion be the magic number for the transportation bill? Two key players in the marathon contest over the legislation have moved their markers onto that figure but construction industry officials continue to seek higher funding.

In his fiscal 2006 budget proposal, issued Feb. 7, President Bush proposed a $283.9-billion, six-year measure, $28 billion more than he recommended a year earlier (see table). One factor is increased Highway Trust Fund revenue from ethanol-tax changes enacted last year, says Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta. House Transpor-tation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) followed the President two days later, introducing a $283.9-billion bill. "I strongly believe we have a much better chance of moving this legislation quickly in the 109th Congress, now that we are working with the same top line funding level that the President has endorsed," he says.

Observers see the proposals as steps forward. "Those are the ingredients that will get the train moving," says a Washington source. "I think [$284 billion] is where they’re going to start," says American Highway Users Alliance President Gregory Cohen. He sees "potential to do a little bit better" than that amount.

Observers say Congress has some wiggle room, in part because lawmakers will use Congressional Budget Office projections of Highway Trust Fund revenue that are higher than the administration’s forecast. One source says CBO’s estimates are $11 billion more than the White House figures, over six years.

More money may be needed to placate "donor" states that want to boost the amount of federal highway aid received for each fuel-tax dollar their residents pay. That minimum return now is 90.5%, set by the 1998 Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. Cohen says a $284-billion bill could support a 92% return. Donors prefer an even better return.

"The open question is how far Congress is able to go and keep the administration on board," says Associated General Contractors CEO Stephen E. Sandherr. All sides want a deal before transportation programs lapse May 31.

Bush Administration’s $284-Billion Proposal       
(MIL/$) 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 04-09

Federal-Aid Highways
Total Budget Resources*

34,688 36,945 35,439 36,827 39,353 45,358 226,667

Highway Safety
Budget Resources

662 895 1,161 1,187 1,215 1,245 6,365
Transit Budget Resources 7,266 7,647 7,781 8,170 8,701 9,440 49,005

Total Budget Resources/

42,616 45,487 44,381 46,184 49,269 56,043 283,980
*Includes obligation limit, plus $739 million per year in funds exempt from limit and $1.9 billion in 2005 for emergency supplemental funds for rebuilding from hurricanes, other disasters.       
Source: U.S. Dept. of Transportation