More than two years after SAFETEA-LU became law, Congress has passed a measure making “technical corrections” to the voluminous highway-and-transit statute. The bill, which gained final congressional approval on April 30, would clear the way for scores of projects stalled because of incorrect locations, route numbers or other mistakes in SAFETEA-LU. The White House voiced strong opposition to the corrections bill but stopped short of threatening a veto. The bill’s 358-51 House margin and 88-2 Senate vote look veto-proof.
The bill makes changes in more than 400 projects authorized in SAFETEA-LU, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users. Some changes address “inadvertent drafting errors,” says House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.). But the bill also boosts funds for some SAFETEA-LU projects and deletes authorizations for others.
“There’s a lot of money being held up in projects...that can’t get out the door until those ‘fixes’ are put in place,” says Janet Oakley, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ director of policy and government relations. The changes will unlock up to $1 billion for infrastructure work, says Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
The bill would hike funds for the Future Strategic Highway Research Program and authorize $22.6 million more than SAFETEA-LU for universities’ transportation research centers. It has $90 million of contract authority for magnetic-levitation transportation plans. Funds are split between the Nevada Dept. of Transportation and projects east of the Mississippi River.
The American Public Transportation Association is pleased with language that requires the Federal Transit Administration “to give comparable weight to land- use and economic-development benefits” in evaluating new starts, says Paul Dean, APTA director of government relations.
The bill directs the Justice Dept. to “review allegations of impropriety” concerning a Florida project for which SAFETEA-LU authorized $10 million. The project description allegedly was altered after SAFETEA-LU passed, during its “enrollment” before it was sent to the White House.
Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), Transportation and Infrastructure chairman when SAFETEA-LU passed, said, “This project was asked for by the community. It was supported by the congressman from that district.” He said bill enrollment “is not a process I own or control.”