What's Inside Congress's $305 Billion Transportation Bill

PHOTO: Google Maps will now include railroad crossings. Getty Images
Google Maps will now include railroad crossings.

After weeks of negotiations, Congress has approved a five-year, $305 billion transportation bill, the first long-term measure funding highways and transit infrastructure programs in a decade.

The House and Senate passed the bill overwhelmingly Thursday, and President Obama is expected to sign it into law.

Tucked away in the 1,300 page proposal are measures that would help fund road and infrastructure repairs, maintain gas prices, boost milk producers and allow dogs on trains.

TRAIN RIDERS The bill, which authorizes $10 billion in funding for the Amtrak system over five years, could give Acela customers a smoother ride from New York to Washington. Under the deal, Amtrak can now funnel profits from the system’s popular Northeast corridor back into region, rather than across the whole system.

Pet owners also have a reason to rejoice: the bill expands a pilot program allowing passengers to bring dogs and cats on some train cars for a small fee.

DRIVERS AND COMMUTERS

Are commuters in for stress-free rides to work? Probably not.

But with five years of guaranteed federal funding, state and local governments can now tackle long-term highway, bridge and tunnel repairs that have been difficult to plan with short-term federal funding patches.

“Knowing how much highway and transit money they’re going to get in 2020 helps them plan projects in 2017,” said Jeff Davis, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Eno Center for Transportation.

That could mean fewer potholes on your street and less congestion on the highways to and from the office. The bill also raises federal highway and local transit funding in its first year.

Additionally, drivers happy with record-low gas prices don’t have to worry about a price increase. The 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax, which hasn’t changed since 1993, will remain the same under the pending legislation.

SAFETY ADVOCATES

For riders concerned about train safety, the measure could force Amtrak to pay $295 million – up from $200 million -- in damages as a result of the May train derailment in Philadelphia that killed eight people. The bill also provides $200 million to help railroads install the safety technology that could have prevented the accident.

The measure also authorizes a study on marijuana-impaired driving, and requires rental car dealers and companies repair vehicles that have been recalled before loaning them out.

DEBT COLLECTORS AND COMMERICAL BANKS

To keep down the gas tax – which traditionally funds infrastructure repairs - Congress has allowed the IRS to use private debt collectors, which some lawmakers worry leaves low-income taxpayers open to abuse.

Lawmakers have also taken money away from commercial banks, cutting the dividend rate on payments they receive from the Federal Reserve.

WISCONSIN LOGGERS AND MILK PRODUCERS

Several provisions in the highway bill supported by Wisconsin lawmakers will make it easier for truckers carrying timber and milk from producers. One provision would open up more roads to Wisconsin logging trucks. Another would allow truckers in some states to carry more milk, which advocates say cut costs for dairy producers and consumers.

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