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Senators press to release $4 billion for transportation infrastructure

Senators press to release $4 billion for transportation infrastructure

Almost three-fourths of the Senate urged the Democratic and Republican leadership on Thursday to appropriate $40 billion in fiscal 2007 for transportation infrastructure improvements as outlined in the SAFETEA-LU multi-year authorization bill approved 18 months ago.

   The federal investment level in the reauthorization bill represents a nearly $4 billion increase from fiscal year 2006 funding, including $3.4 billion for highways.

   Most of the federal government, including the Department of Transportation, is operating at 2006 spending levels under a continuing resolution because Congress only passed appropriation bills for three departments. State departments of transportation have made long-range plans based on the funding levels in the surface transportation reauthorization bill and are delaying needed transportation projects as a result.

   The continuing resolution runs until Feb. 15, but Congress has not made progress on the appropriations process, and there is even talk on the Hill of extending the continuing resolution for the entire year.

   'We fear that if the commitments made in SAFETEA-LU are not honored, our states will face major economic disruption that will cost jobs, delay safety improvements and stifle economic growth,' 72 senators said in a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

   A week earlier a large number of congressmen and women urged the House Appropriations Committee to push for similar action.

   An omnibus appropriation bill for the rest of the government would mean that states would forego that additional money. Last year the full House and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the elevated 2007 surface transportation amount, but the full Senate never passed the Transportation appropriation.

   Federal highway programs are supported by user fees, primarily gasoline and diesel fuel taxes, collected in the Highway Trust Fund.

   The senators said status quo funding amounts to a spending cut because inflation has eroded the real value of the highway program, limiting the number of projects that can be covered. Construction costs have skyrocketed 30 percent during the last three years, according to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.

   The continuing resolution is already having a negative impact on the marketplace, ARTBA President Peter Ruane, told several reporters after a speech at the Transportation Table luncheon in Washington Friday. Contractors and state DOTs are delaying projects, and holding back on future investments and hiring people, because of the uncertainty about federal disbursements.

   That is having a ripple effect because some analysts are starting to downgrade the stocks of publicly traded construction companies, which reduces the value of their enterprise, Ruane said.

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