House Committee Passes $284 Billion Transport Bill

WASHINGTON, DC, March 3, 2005 (ENS) - Legislation that would provide $284 billion in federal highway, transit and road safety projects through 2009 was unanimously approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in a voice vote Wednesday.

The bill, H.R. 3, The Transportation Equity Act - Legacy for Users (TEA LU), was introduced by the bipartisan leadership of the Transportation Committee.

Committee Chairman Congressman Don Young, an Alaska Republican, said he anticipates the legislation will be voted on by the full U.S. House next week.

"The American people deserve solutions to the problems of congestion, crumbling roads and delayed shipments of freight," Young said prior to the full Committee vote.

"I want to stress that in this global economy, we will not remain an economic power if we do not maintain and improve our transportation infrastructure. Our economy and our way of life depend on our ability to rapidly move both people and products."

Congressman Tom Petri, a Wisconsin Republican who chairs the Highways, Transit and Pipelines Subcommittee, emphasized the economic benefits of the $284 billion measure. "It is estimated that for every $1 billion invested in federal highway and transit, 47,500 jobs are created or sustained. This is an investment into the backbone of our economy. More than 67 percent of the nation's freight moves on highways, an annual value to the economy of more than $5 trillion."

More than 700 members of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) will convene in Washington, next week at the APTA Legislative Conference to push for passage of the measure.

APTA President William Millar said in February, "Given the growth in public transportation and the increased demand by the American people to have a balanced transportation network that includes public transportation, I call on President Bush and the leaders of Congress to make the reauthorization of a long-term, well-funded and fully guaranteed transportation bill a top priority."

There is some urgency about passage of this measure before May 31, when the current TEA 21 extension expires. The transportation bill proposed in the last session of Congress did not pass.

"Despite their success over the past year," said Millar, "the nation's public transportation systems have been unable to plan for the future as this all important piece of federal transportation legislation failed to pass. Delays in passage have meant delays in planning and will lead to increased costs for projects throughout the country."

The US Fuel Cell Council applauded the committee’s inclusion of nearly $64.8 million for fuel cell buses in the proposed legislation.

The legislation includes the Fuel Cell Bus Technology Demonstration Program, a cost-shared, competitively awarded grant with a maximum of three projects carried out by geographically diverse nonprofit organizations and recipients.

The initiative covers hydrogen production, energy storage, fuel cell technologies, vehicle systems integration and power electronics technologies. It focuses on technology integration, testing, demonstration and validation of fuel cell vehicle technologies and supporting infrastructure.

"Today’s decision is a wonderful first step in bringing fuel cell technology to America’s transit industry. Having said that, the fuel cell industry believes a more robust program is necessary to accelerate full scale commercialization," said Robert Rose, executive director of the US Fuel Cell Council.

Rose pointed to the 10 city program already under way in Europe, the CUTE program, as a example of the scale of program the Council supports and the industry needs.

The bill also amends the list of projects that are eligible under the Clean Fuels Formula Grants program to allow for constructing new facilities as well as improving existing facilities.