The path wasn't smooth, but Congress has approved a measure extending federal highway, transit and aviation programs--and the taxes that finance them. President Obama signed the measure on Sept. 16.

Final congressional action came less than 24 hours earlier, when the Senate passed the measure by an overwhelming 92-6 vote.The bill had sailed through the House on Sept. 13, on a unanimous voice vote.

The bill's enactment will continue a pattern of living by stopgaps for state transportation and airport officials, and construction companies, who have had to operate for many months under multiple extensions approved by Congress for the surface transportation and aviation programs.

The newly signed measure provides a six-month extension for highway and transit programs, through March 31, and continues Federal Aviation Administration airport construction grants and other aviation programs, for about four and a half months, through Jan. 31.

It is the eighth highway-transit extension since September 2009, when the last multi-year surface-transportation measure lapsed. The FAA extension is the 22nd since September 2007, when the last long-term FAA bill expired.

The bill's wide margin of passage in the Senate doesn't reflect the turmoil over the legislation in that chamber.  Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) tied up the measure for about two days, because he wanted to see a change in highway funding policy.

As the standoff continued, it raised the possibility that the bill might not pass before midnight Sept. 16, when authority for FAA programs was to expire. Highways and transit had a bit more breathing space, because their previous short-term authorization wasn't due to expire until Sept. 30.

But senior Senate lawmakers, including Coburn's fellow Oklahoma Republican, Sen. James Inhofe (R), worked out a deal with Coburn that allowed the extensions package to come up for a floor vote.

Coburn wanted to amend the extension bill to change the current requirement that states use 10% of their annual federal Surface Transportation Program category funding for transportation "enhancements," such as bike paths and walkways. His office referred to those projects as "niceties." He contended that the money should go to projects such as bridges and highways. 

Under the deal, a two-year highway-transit measure now being drafted by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee leaders will continue the transportation enhancements program, says Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.),  "with more flexibility granted to the states on the use of the funds within the [enhancements] program."