After five weeks of negotiating, the Senate has passed a two-year, $109 billion transportation bill.
The vote was largely bipartition, 74-22.
The current federal highway funding is set to expire on March 31. The bill passed in the Senate today provides a two-year extension of funds to improve highway and bridge safety, and aid in construction projects that will help “maintain or create” 2.8 million jobs in the country, senators say.
Sen. Boxer, D-Calif., and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, navigated the bill though the Senate and were widely praised for getting a bipartisan bill under deadline.
“Our bridges are old, our freeways are old, and we need to make sure that they are repaired and kept in good order,” Sen. Boxer said after the vote today. “Seventy thousand bridges are deficient, and more than half of our roads are not up to standard. So we have come together, and we are excited at this point.”
“When it gets down to something we really need to do, we’ll get it done, and we did,” Senator Inhofe said today. “This is the kind of bill that’s very easy to demagogue if you say that you’re against it and you’re against all the spending and all that. But our job is to get in conference. We’re going to get in conference now. We’re going to get it done, and we’re going to have a bill.”
The bill now goes to the House for final passage, although it is not yet clear if the House will take up the Senate-passed legislation or act on a similar version.
Today there were widespread calls in the Senate and from the White House for the House to act on its bill soon.
“They’re off on vacation or wherever on trips they are. O.K., fine. Get back here and do the work,” Senator Boxer said today of House members. “They ought to take a serious look at taking this bill up and passing it. It is a well-thought-out bill. It is a reform bill.”
Senators from both parties admitted that the one area the bill falls short is that the issue of long-term funding was not resolved. The bill does not resolve how to keep the federal Highway Trust Fund solvent beyond next year.
“That’s our next big project,” Boxer said, adding that they will use the time while funding is in place to work on a mechanism for longer-term funding.