The Senate yesterday passed a roughly $28 billion transportation appropriations bill for the new year, including money for upgrading the nation's airports, mass transit systems and Amtrak.
"There can be no prosperity without mobility," Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said in hailing the legislation, passed by voice vote shortly before the Senate recessed for its August vacation.
Lautenberg, chairman of the Senate Appropriations transportation subcommittee, said the measure will have to be reconciled with a slightly less expensive version considered by the House.
He said the Senate measure "takes some critical steps" to improve the nation's network of highways, bridges and public works facilities.
The bill provides $13.8 billion for highway construction, $8.08 billion for the Federal Aviation Administration, $3.3 billion for mass transit facilities and just over $3 billion for the Coast Guard. The appropriation for the Coast Guard includes nearly $53 million for oil-spill cleanup activities.
The measure includes a provision to tie federal highway funds to efforts by states to suspend the licenses of drivers convicted of drug-related offenses.
"Suspending the drivers' licenses of drug offenders is an effective weapon in the war on drugs," said Lautenberg, who sponsored the provision. "It will make people, especially young people, think twice before getting involved with drugs."
The measure also includes $125 million to switch the rail line between New Haven, Conn., and Boston from diesel to electric power -- a move that supporters said would shorten commuters' travel time by two hours.