After Long Fight, Congress Passes 2-Yr Surface Transportation Bill

The Tappan Zee Bridge (photo by Joseph A. via Flickr)

Congress approved a two-year, $100 billion transportation and infrastructure bill just days before the federal highway trust fund was set to expire.

The legislation comes after more than 1,000 days of wrangling by Republicans and Democrats over issues like Keystone oil pipeline approval allowing transit agencies to use federal capital funds for operating expenses during periods of high unemployment. (Neither provision made it into the final bill.)

Senator Barbara Boxer praised the legislation, after leading the Democratic side of negotiations in the Senate. She said it would save about 1.8 million jobs by keeping aid for highway and transit construction flowing to states and create another 1 million jobs by using federal loan guarantees to leverage private sector investment in infrastructure projects.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called it “a good, bipartisan bill that will create jobs, strengthen our transportation system and grow our economy."

But Advocacy group Transportation for America said the bill "disappointing." In a statement, the group said: "We are pleased Congress has averted a shutdown, and the associated loss of jobs -- but this is literally no way to run a railroad...Despite never passing their own bill, House leaders were able to eliminate dedicated funding for repair of bridges and highways; cut vital transportation dollars for cities and local governments; slash funding available to prevent pedestrian deaths; and erode public input and local control in the planning of major transportation projects.