Young to press transportation during session

Posted: Friday, November 12, 2004

FAIRBANKS (AP) U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, will push for the passage of a new transportation bill that includes hundreds of millions of dollars in Alaska projects when Congress meets in a short session next week.

But differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill have not yet been worked out by a conference committee appointed to shape a compromise, said Steve Hansen, Young's Transportation Committee spokesperson.

''It still is a possibility, but the window of opportunity is closing fairly quickly,'' Hansen said. ''Unless we can get an agreement from the Democrats, nothing will happen until next year.''

Young, who chairs the committee, and others want to significantly increase the rate by which the federal government distributes gasoline tax money and to secure billions for specific projects. Young has about $500 million in earmarks in the House bill, above the $2 billion to $2.5 billion delivered to the state by the current gasoline tax formula over six years.

The Alaska projects include $200 million for a bridge over Knik Arm north of Anchorage and at least $137 million for a bridge to Gravina Island west of Ketchikan.

Young said last month he would press for the bill's passage in the post-election session, which is expected to last about a week. He said that if it wasn't passed this year, the bill would have to be reintroduced and go through the entire process again.

Congress has already approv-ed an eight-month extension to the existing transportation spending bill, which keeps the states' gasoline tax revenue formula the same.

The Senate's version of the new bill proposed spending $318 billion over six years. The House passed a $284 billion bill, down from the $375 billion Young sought initially.

The American Highway Users Alliance, a group lobbying for the bill, said in its Nov. 5 newsletter that Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., is now the key decision-maker.

Reid is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over the highway bill. He objected earlier this year when Republican Sen. James Inhofe, the committee chairman, suggested spending about $300 billion over six years.

But the highway alliance said the new political landscape may cause Reid to reassess his opposition to Inhofe's compromise figure.

''The growing number of conservatives in the next Congress has signaled to transportation groups that it is unlikely that a major increase in surface transportation funding is politically achievable in 2005,'' the newsletter said.

That could build bipartisan support for passing the bill, although ''the odds remain long that the stars will align,'' it said.

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