The House has approved a fiscal 2008 transportation appropriations bill that would hike funding for highways, mass transit and airport programs. But the bill drew a veto threat from the White House, which called its spending levels "irresponsible and excessive." The House also sparked a flap in Pennsylvania by adding an amendment that would block a plan to impose tolls on the state's lengthy stretch of Interstate 80.
The spending bill, which the House passed July 24 by a 268–153 vote, would boost the federal highway obligation limit 3%, to $40.2 billion. It would hike Federal Transit Administration spending 8%, to $9.7 billion, and increase airport grants 2%, to $3.6 billion.
The I–80 amendment, offered by Pennsylvania Republicans John Peterson and Phil English, would block use of federal funds to add toll facilities on the now–free highway, which stretches 311 miles across the state's northern section.
If the Senate goes along with the provision, it would be a blow to the state's plan to use I–80 toll revenue to help fund transportation improvements. The plan, which also includes higher tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, was contained in a bill signed on July 18 by Gov. Edward Rendell (D).
After the House vote, Rendell blasted the I–80 amendment as "harmful and short–sighted" and said he was reviving a proposal to seek offers to lease the turnpike. The resulting lease revenue would go for roads, bridges and transit.
But Robert Latham, Associated Pennsylvania Contractors' executive vice president, doesn't expect the Interstate 80 amendment to become law. "We think the thing's going to be stripped out in conference committee" between the House and Senate, he says. The DOT spending bill that the Senate Appropriations Committee cleared on July 12 does not have the anti–toll provision.
If the I–80 language is dropped, it would clear the way for Rendell's tolling plan. Rich Kirkpatrick, a Pennsylvania DOT spokesman, says the program would produce on average about $532 million more a year for highways and bridges and $414 million annually for transit. Latham says PennDOT has been awarding $1.5 billion to $1.6 billion in highway work annually in the past two to three years.