Congress sends transportation bill to Obama

  • Article by: RICHARD SIMON , Los Angeles Times
  • Updated: June 29, 2012 - 10:15 PM

President signed temporary measure until he gets the full bill, which extends college loan rates.

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Doyle Honstad of Lunda Construction and the project manager on the Hastings bridge on the deck of the new Hastings Minnesota bridge. The House passed a bill that would spend more than $100 billion on highway and transit programs over two years.

Photo: Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

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WASHINGTON - Congress, in a rare display of bipartisanship, on Friday sent to President Obama a $105 billion transportation bill that lawmakers from both parties touted as perhaps the largest jobs measure of the year. It also would avert a doubling of interest rates for millions of college student loans that was threatened to hit Sunday.

"The American people finally will have a jobs bill from this Congress," said Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who is Washington, D.C.'s delegate to the House.

The first major transportation bill since 2005, the legislation would keep highway and transit spending at current levels through the end of fiscal year 2014. It includes an expansion of a federal loan program to fast-track bus and rail projects in traffic-choked regions.

The House approved the bill by a lopsided 373-52 vote, demonstrating the power of pothole politics. The Senate approved it 74-19.

Obama signed a one-week temporary measure Friday, permitting the highway and loan programs to continue until the full bill reaches his desk.

The bill provides financial incentives to states that crack down on distracted driving, require ignition interlock devices for DUI offenders and establish graduated licensing programs that restrict teenagers' driving privileges.

The bill's passage came only after lawmakers once again faced deadlines -- a shutdown of the highway program Saturday and a doubling of student interest loan rates Sunday. Lawmakers also did something unusual for this Congress: They compromised.

"Do not give up hope," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who called it evidence "that we can work together."

"This measure will get projects moving by cutting the red tape that delays projects across the country, said House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla.

Republicans dropped an effort to use the bill to try to advance the Keystone XL pipeline. Republican leaders, despite opposition within their conservative ranks, also agreed to find money from other than the gas tax to fund transportation projects, such as higher employer premiums to the pension insurance agency. And Democrats made concessions that are likely to lead to less funding for bicycle, pedestrian and beautification projects.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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