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Republican bill would spend $260 billion over 4 1/2 years on roads, bridges, transit projects
WASHINGTON (AP) ' House Republicans are proposing to spend about $260 billion over the next 4 1/2 years on transportation programs as a way to preserve jobs, according to a draft bill being introduced this week.
Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., who is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and other GOP leaders are expected to introduce the bill on Tuesday, when Mica's committee is poised to approve the measure.
The bill would maintain current spending on transportation despite declining gasoline and diesel fuel taxes, which historically have paid for highway and transit programs.
A separate committee will decide how to cover the gap between gas-tax revenues and the spending levels proposed in the bill. GOP leaders have said they plan to use revenue from expanded oil and natural gas drilling, but haven't provided details.
The bill provides enough money to prevent the nation's roads, bridges and transit systems from falling further into disrepair, but not enough to significantly reduce the backlog of needed work on transportation infrastructure, transportation experts said. A congressionally mandated commission estimated in 2009 that it would require $200 billion a year to reduce the backlog while maintaining the current transportation system.
"Clearly this level of funding is inadequate to support our needs as a nation," said Joshua Schank, president of the Eno Center for Transportation, a Washington think tank that supports greater transportation investment.
But the bill is expected to save jobs in construction, bus manufacturing and other transportation-related industries in part because it allows state transportation departments to make long-term commitments of funds. Those kinds of commitments are usually necessary before companies can go forward with major new transportation projects.
Each $1 billion in transportation construction spending supports about 30,000 jobs, said Andy Herrmann, president of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
The GOP bill is "holding along the lines of what we've been doing in the past," he said.
But that may be enough to propel the bill through the House in an election year where voter regard for Congress is at rock bottom and lawmakers are eager to show off an accomplishment.
The last long-term transportation bill expired in 2009. Congress has kept transportation aid flowing to states through a series of short-term extensions. The current extension expires on March 31.
The Senate is working on its own bill, which would spend $109 billion over two years. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., a co-author of the bill, says the bill's sponsors have a plan to pay for the measure, but hasn't detailed how that would happen.