One of the major construction appropriations bills for 2008,the measure funding Dept. of Transportation programs, is moving closer to final approval. Increases are all but assured for highway and transit programs although some bumps still lie ahead.
A House-Senate conference agreement on a final DOT bill, or many of the other 11 unfinished 2008 spending measures, is questionable before the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1. That will mean a stopgap bill to keep programs running. Moreover, with the White House brandishing veto threats on the DOT and other appropriations bills, Democrats will need to muster two-thirds majorities to override vetoes or trim some areas to make them more palatable to the administration.
Still, “I would anticipate that the transportation money’s going to stay pretty solid,” says Brian Deery, senior director of the Associated General Contractors’ highway and transportation division. The Senate measure provides $41.2 billion for the highway obligation ceiling. That is $1 billion more than what the House approved for 2008 and 5% above the 2007 ceiling.
The $1-billion difference comes from a Senate amendment adding funds for bridge upgrades nationwide, a reaction to the Aug. 1 Minneapolis bridge collapse. Industry officials think much or all of the $1 billion for bridges will be in the final DOT bill. “I just think that [legislators] want to do something to address the concern, and the funds are in the trust fund right now,” Deery says. Gregory Cohen, American Highway Users Federation president, says House appropriators “are interested in what the Senate has done and they want to put their imprint on it.”
The Senate also added $195 million in appropriations to replace the collapsed I-35W bridge. Congress authorized $250 million but only $55 million has been released so far.
Industry officials think a large sum for bridges will be in final DOT bill.
The Senate bill has $9.6 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, up 7% from 2007 but $145 million below the House 2008 level. The American Public Transportation Association is “disappointed that the Senate bill did not provide the full level of funding for transit that is authorized for 2008 in SAFETEA-LU,”says Paul Dean, government relations director. He’s hopeful that conferees settle on the House’s transit total, which is the same as the level provided by SAFETEA-LU.
The Senate turned back a proposal to waive Davis-Bacon Act wage requirements on construction or maintenance work on deficient bridges.