May 17, 2005

Senate Approves Highway Bill Including Wyden Bond Measure, "Smart Growth" Funds

Bipartisan measure adds infrastructure bonds to highway bill;$15 billion will help repair roads, bridges nationwide

Washington, D.C. - Federal highway legislation passed by the U.S. Senate today included an amendment authored by U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to boost funding for America's roads and bridges by $15 billion. The bipartisan Highway Infrastructure Bonds amendment, which Wyden offered with U.S. Senator Jim Talent (R-Mo.), will use bonds to finance repair and building projects for roads, bridges and freight infrastructure.

"A chunk of our country's transportation infrastructure is falling apart, and today the Senate took a common-sense step to fund the repairs America's roads and bridges need," said Wyden. "The additional $15 billion provided by these bonds will help create hundreds of thousands of family-wage jobs in Oregon and nationwide, and revitalize our highways, bridges and freight projects at the same time."

Tax-exempt bonds are commonly used by states and localities to invest in public infrastructure needs such as airports and water facilities, but they have never been used for roads and bridges. The Wyden plan would allow the Federal government to issue $15 billion in bonds to finance projects on roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure; some projects may involve partnerships between public- and private-sector interests. For every $1 billion invested in federal highway and transit infrastructure, an estimated 47,500 jobs are created. The amendment approved today can create more than 700,000 jobs and generate nearly $6 billion in economic activity across the country.

The Senate-passed legislation also contains a major funding boost for the "smart growth" provision Wyden authored in the 1998 TEA-21 transportation law. In that original legislation, Wyden's Transportation and Community and System Preservation (TCSP) Program initiative provided $25 million per year to promote innovative transportation planning and to fund projects that keep communities' healthy growth from becoming destructive urban sprawl; Oregon has received nearly $4 million in grants from the Wyden program to date. The Senate's 2005 legislation nearly doubles that funding, to $47 million per year.

"The TCSP pilot program was the first Federal effort to incentivize smart growth policies for states and local governments, and this additional funding will help more communities plan wisely for the future," said Wyden. "Congress should create more Federal incentives to stop urban sprawl in our transportation and infrastructure planning."

The legislation also includes a Wyden measure allowing more states to band together in partnerships with each other and with the U.S. Department of Transportation to establish State Infrastructure Banks, institutions that can make loans specifically for public and private infrastructure projects.

The $295 billion Senate highway bill must now go to a conference committee to reconcile differences with the transportation bill passed by the House of Representatives. Following that process, final legislation can be approved for the President's signature into law.