WASHINGTON — The US Senate on Wednesday passed a $109-billion highway bill that serves as a roadmap for boosting safety and improving infrastructure and freight transport on America’s roads.
The sweeping legislation passed 74-22 with broad bipartisan support following weeks of wrangling in the Senate, and now heads to the House of Representatives, whose members are under pressure from the White House to adopt the bill just two weeks before all-important highway authorization runs out.
The bill would reauthorize federal public transportation programs at current funding levels for the next two years, as opposed to five years which had earlier been sought by both parties.
Legislators in the Republican-led House introduced their own, more ambitious five-year bill estimated at $260 billion, but it failed to get sufficient Republican support.
Republican Senator James Inhofe, a co-sponsor of the Senate version, said the bill marked a highlight of bipartisan cooperation during a particularly contentious period of inter-party bickering in Washington.
“This probably will go down perhaps as one of the most significant pieces of legislation for this year,” Inhofe told reporters after the vote.
His Democratic co-sponsor Barbara Boxer also hailed the bipartisanship, but said it was now time for the House to step up and approve the bill as soon as possible, adding that failure to reauthorize in time would lead to “chaos.”
“We’re asking them to do their work,” she said of the House members. “No less than 1.8 million jobs are at stake.”
The bill would help improve the safety of public transportation systems, streamline steps in transport construction projects, monitor and upgrade public transportation infrastructure, and crack down on distracted driving.
But the Senate version does not include several provisions favored by House Republicans, including an amendment that would approve the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline project from Canada to Texas.
The White House said it hoped the House of Representatives would “move swiftly and in similarly bipartisan fashion” to approve the highway bill.
“Our country needs and deserves a commitment to surface transportation that will create jobs by rebuilding and modernizing our roads and bridges and allows us to compete and grow in the global economy,” President Barack Obama’s spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.