It is expected to be signed into law. The U.S. has been without a new transportation act since September 2003, when the 1998 law expired. Since then, Congress has had to pass temporary extensions to keep money flowing to the states for construction projects.
The new bill includes a record level of earmarks for the pet projects of lawmakers for their states and districts, many of them of dubious economic importance. The bill contains more than $50 billion for transit programs, both for bus and rail projects. “Congress missed an opportunity with this bill to bring major relief to the millions of Americans who are stuck in traffic, stuck with an asthma inhaler, or stuck with high gas bills,” said Michael Replogle, Transportation Director at Environmental Defense and President of ITDP. “This bill also takes little action to improve energy security. More than ever, it will be up to state and local officials to put in place transportation policy that protects our health and environment.”
“Although the bill is short on vision and long on pork, there are a few bright spots that should not be ignored,” Replogle added. The new bill will give states greater latitude to redirect toll projects to fund transit and environmental mitigation measures. However, safeguards against adverse social and air quality impacts will be weakened. Congressional leaders who worked to protect core environmental laws that were threatened in earlier versions of the bill include Representatives Oberstar and Dingle, and Senators Jeffords, Carper, and Warner.