Senate passes transportation bill that curtails growth of toll roads

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A map of the U.S. interstate highway system.

A map of the U.S. interstate highway system. (Photo Credit: Public Domain/Augiasstallputzer/Wikipedia)

The Washington Post reports that the U.S. Senate passed a two-year, $109 billion bipartisan transportation bill today by a vote of 74-22. Sources indicate that the Senate transportation and highway bill will create jobs and improve the infrastructure through which commerce flows, including the U.S. interstate highway system.

Job creation in an election year

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) noted that the transportation bill provides bragging rights for Democrats because it proves that the party can push through election-year job creation legislation. The bill, which is co-sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), will reportedly create more than 2.8 million jobs in projects ranging from improving roads and highways to retrofitting more than 70,000 of the nation’s failing roadway bridges.

The current U.S. transportation bill expires on March 31, according to the Washington Post. Once the new bill is approved by the House and President Obama, it will go into effect and save thousands of road construction jobs from being put on hiatus.

Avoiding toll roads

A key element of the transportation bill is an amendment proposed by Sen. Jeff Bingham (D-N.M.) that passed Tuesday by a vote of 50-47. Bingham’s amendment would make it more difficult to privatize existing highways and turn them into toll roads. Groups ranging from the American Automobile Association to trucking and commerce organizations have opposed an increase in U.S. toll roads for some time, and according to Bingham, the legislation would remove existing privatized toll roads from consideration for taxpayer maintenance dollars.

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“I think it’s a defeat for Wall Street interests that have counted on Congress being asleep at the wheel when it comes to their subsides for private projects,” said Phineas Baxandall, federal tax and budget policy analyst for U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Steady transportation spending, despite lower gas tax

Even though funds from gas tax revenues that once filled the Highway Trust Fund are reportedly shrinking away, the Senate transportation bill calls for continued steady funding of infrastructure projects and improvements. Conservatives within the U.S. Senate criticized the bill’s call to transfer money from the general fund instead of from gas tax revenue and continued their common argument that drivers’ gas taxes should not apply to bicycle and pedestrian pathways.

“Taxpayers have already bailed out the federal highway trust fund with $35 billion, and this highway bill would force them to provide another $13 billion bailout,” said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). “We’ve got to stop the bipartisan spending spree, and the federal government has to start letting go of programs that can be done better, faster, and less expensively at the state level.”

DeMint’s proposal to tie the Highway Trust Fund to individual state budgets rather than the federal budget failed 30-67 on Tuesday.

Sen. Harry Reid to GOP: Don’t let Tea Party block highway jobs bill


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