Congress was finally ready to go home for the Fourth of July recess. Congress agreed to a two-year plan to fund the nation’s transportation projects, as part of a broader package that included resolution of other long-simmering issues.
The measure also would avert a doubling of interest rates for millions of college student loans that was threatened to hit Sunday.
The package passed the House 373 to 52 and later cleared the Senate 74 to 19, with one member voting present. Under the agreement, federal transportation funding will continue at roughly $54 billion a year, averting a crisis for the nation’s highway construction projects that could have occurred if Congress not agreed on the money before the expiration of a short-term measure Saturday night. The bill also includes an expansion of a federal loan program sought by a group of U.S. mayors to fast-track bus and rail projects in traffic-choked regions.
The agreement does not include a provision launching construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which Republicans had sought. But it also omits a $1.4 billion for conservation that Democrats favored, and dropped restrictions on how states use money once mandated for aesthetic transportation improvements.
“I think everybody realized that tomorrow [Saturday], if we hadn’t acted, thousands of transportation projects across the nation would come to a halt and the potential for millions of people being laid off as opposed to the opposite,” said Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who chairs the House Transportation Committee.
“This is a bill that everyone can be proud of — whether they’re Republican or Democrat,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, who led negotiations with Mica over the final package.
Throughout the negotiations, Boxer, Mica and other supporters that the transportation dollars would ultimately help save more than 2 million jobs — making the bill one of the most significant pieces of jobs legislation passed by lawmakers this year.
The impact in Illinois was immediately felt by a grateful governor.
“Today’s news from Washington D.C. is a step in the right direction for Illinois,” said Governor Pat Quinn in a statement released from his office.
“The federal transportation bill that passed today will provide $4.1 billion dollars for Illinois highways and $1.5 billion for Illinois public transit over the next three years. In addition to the $14 billion we are investing through our Illinois Jobs Now! capital program, we will build a first-class transportation system for the people of Illinois, while creating or retaining approximately 200,000 jobs.
“We are extremely grateful to Senator Dick Durbin and Congressman Jerry Costello, with whom we worked closely to fight hard to strengthen our infrastructure and improve our roads, streets, bridges and transit systems. Without their relentless efforts, Illinois could have been left behind by the original House proposal.
“I also want to thank the members of the Illinois Congressional delegation who fought for more resources for the Highway Trust Fund similar to the levels of the bipartisan bill that passed the U.S. Senate. Now that this bill has passed, I urge the House leadership to continue working to identify additional resources for the Highway Trust Fund, which will pave the way for more economic growth.”
“The Illinois Department of Transportation is reviewing the legislation to determine its full impact on Illinois, but we know that Illinois will receive a larger percentage of funds than in previous bills and obtain more revenue back from Washington. As a result, Illinois will move from 7th in the nation to 6th in overall highway transportation dollars received from the federal government.
“This investment will help us continue to fund safety improvements across Illinois, bolster all modes of transportation, increase our seatbelt usage — which stands at 93.6 percent — and reduce roadway fatalities, which have remained under 1,000 in Illinois for each of the past three years. We will also continue to protect the environment while ensuring that projects move ahead as efficiently as possible.
“I look forward to President Barack Obama signing this important legislation, which will allow Illinois to continue moving forward to strengthen our transportation network and put more people to work.”
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John is the author of an award-winning book, the 2010 Winner of the USA National Best Book award for African-American studies, published by The Elevator Group Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots: How Barack Obama, Two Bookstore Owners, and 300 Volunteers did it. Also available an eBook on Amazon. John is also a member of the Society of Midland Authors and is a book reviewer of political books for the New York Journal of Books