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Obama Signs $104B Highway-Transit Bill

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Ending more than 33 months of transportation funding via stopgap bills, President Obama has signed into law a new $104-billion highway and transit authorization measure.

With key lawmakers as well as construction and transportation group leaders in attendance, Obama signed the long-delayed bill on July 6 in a brief ceremony in the East Room of the White House. The measure—titled MAP-21, for Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century—funds surface-transportation programs through September 2014.

The new statute's roughly 27-month span gives state agencies and construction-industry companies more of the funding  certainty they have sought to plan and launch road, bridge and transit projects. 

Final congressional approval of the bill came on June 29, when the House passed the measure on a 373-52 vote and, soon after that, the Senate cleared the bill, 74-19.

To keep federal transportation funds flowing until the enactment date, the president on June 29 signed a one-week highway-transit authorization. It was the 10th in a series of extensions since Sept. 30, 2009, when the last long-term highway-transit statute lapsed. The latest stopgap was needed because the previous one was due to expire on June 30.

Construction and transportation industry officials, who have lobbied hard since at least 2009 to get a long-term bill, hailed the bill's enactment. But already they are thinking ahead to further legislation.

American Road & Transportation Builders Association Chairman Paul Yarossi and the association's CEO, Peter Ruane, said they were forming an ARTBA task force to seek additional federal transportation funds, beyond the amount MAP-21 provides, in any comprehensive budget and tax measure Congress may take up. Yarossi also is president of design firm HNTB Holdings Ltd.

MAP-21's path to passage was long and rough. The final version represents a compromise between the $109-billion, two-year bill that the Senate approved in March and the three-month bill—including significant non-transportation provisions—that the House passed in April.

In the final negotiating push, the House agreed to drop the non-transportation items, including language to direct quick U.S. approval for the Keystone XL oil pipeline and a provision that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste.

The Senate agreed to drop language providing aid for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Along with its highway and transit funding, the legislation includes provisions that mandate important changes in surface-transportation policy, including steps to accelerate highway and transit project approval and sharply reduce the number of federal surface-transportation programs and funding categories.

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