Bush Signs $286.5 Billion Measure for Highway, Transit Spending

Aug. 10 (Bloomberg) — President George W. Bush traveled to a Caterpillar Inc. plant outside Chicago to sign a $286.5 billion spending authorization for transportation projects that he said would be an economic boon for businesses and workers.

With new federal highway and transit spending “there’s going to be more demand for the machines you make here,” Bush told the crowd at Caterpillar’s facility in Montgomery, Illinois, a town 40 miles west of Chicago that is represented by House Speaker Dennis Hastert. “And because there’s more demand for the machines you make here there is going to be more jobs created around this facility.”

Congress approved the spending just recessing at the end of last month, ending a two-year battle with the White House over how much the government would provide for transportation projects through 2009. House lawmakers had initially sought $375 billion and the Senate wanted $318 billion, prompting Bush to threaten a veto if Congress didn’t hold to the spending limits he set.

Lawmakers had to temporarily extend the old highway law 11 times to give themselves time to work out the disputes. The delay has hurt construction company sales, as states put off large projects until they are assured of funding certainty, company executives have said.

Every additional $1 billion spent on highways creates 47,500 jobs and boosts corporate sales by $100 million, according to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, a Washington-based trade group.

“The bill I am signing is going to help give hundreds of thousands of American get good paying jobs,” Bush said.

Benefits

Hastert said Caterpillar workers at the Montgomery plant represented the thousands of U.S. workers and their employers who will benefit.

“That is what this legislation is all about,” Hastert, a Republican, said.

The legislation passed with broad support from both parties and the guests at the event included Republican and Democratic lawmakers and officeholders.

Critics of the spending plan, such as Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, one of four senators to vote against the spending authorization, said it still contained too many special projects sought by lawmakers for their constituents.

The advocacy group Taxpayers for Common Sense in Washington says the legislation contains almost 6,500 such projects worth more than $24 billion in the spending authorization.

Projects

The legislation sets aside $251 million for two bridges in Alaska, home state of Representative Don Young, the Republican chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that has jurisdiction over the bill. One bridge, a $151 million project, will be named “Don Young’s Way,” according to the bill.

It earmarks $20.5 million for “safety improvements” on a road between two towns in Minnesota, the home state of James Oberstar, the House transportation panel’s senior Democrat. It includes $98 million for roads and bridges in Oklahoma, home state of Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe, a Republican.

The bill also names a California road “Richard Nixon Parkway” after the former president and dubs Boston’s central artery, known as the Big Dig, the “Thomas P. `Tip’ O’Neill Jr. Tunnel” after the former House speaker, a Democrat from Massachusetts.

Congress included $49 million for a consortium of 30 bus makers, operators and technology firms to develop hydrogen and fuel-cell buses for commercial use.

The law also revises regulations affecting the trucking and auto industries. In a victory for safety advocates, the bill includes a new standard to prevent vehicle rollovers and an updated requirement to strength automobile roofs so they don’t crush in accidents. Diabetes sufferers won the ability in the bill to seek work as commercial truck drivers in the bill.

The legislation takes back $8.5 billion in unspent transportation funds from the states, allowing total new spending of $295 billion over six years, an amount that for budgeting purposes is reduced to $286.4 billion. The last six-year law called for $218 billion.

Funding for U.S. highways, transportation projects and transit systems comes from an 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal tax on gasoline and other fuel charges fees.

To contact the reporter on this story:William Roberts in Montgomery, Illinois, at  wroberts@bloomberg.net

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