WASHINGTON -- Broad agreement by congressional negotiators on a highway and mass transit bill signals an end to a nearly two-year standoff that has stalled construction projects and new safety programs.
Lawmakers involved in the talks said they expected to present their report late yesterday or early today, followed by a House vote today. The bill would provide $286.4 billion in the 2004-2009 period, replacing the $218 billion six-year program that expired in 2003.
Passage has been a priority of this session of Congress and the last. But lawmakers have been unable to resolve disputes with the White House over spending levels and with states over the distribution of federal highway money.
''Given the inadequate top line, it's a pretty decent bill," said Representative Peter A. DeFazio, of Oregon, the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on highways. He was one of many lawmakers who had sought significantly higher spending.
Congress has passed 10 temporary extensions of the old law. That has kept existing highway programs running but preventing the new ones from getting started -- work that would create tens of thousands of jobs and address the serious infrastructure problems.
Stephen Sandherr, chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America, said that considering the budgetary restraints and the war in Iraq, ''I think we've squeezed every penny we could" from the negotiations. He said a lot of states have been contracting for little besides maintenance work because of the uncertainty over when Congress would pass a new bill.
The agreement would create a formula where, toward the end of the program, each state would be guaranteed at least 92 cents in federal grants for every dollar contributed to the Highway Trust Fund through gasoline taxes.