Senate passes Transportation bill amendment to prioritize bridge projects

“It simply says that bridges along our nation’s highway system that need to be repaired ought to be prioritized,” Portman said ahead of the vote. “We all know that the federal government’s highway trust fund dollars are stretched very thin, and not enough is reaching the core infrastructure needs. … We’ve got to be very careful and resourceful on how we spend those funds.”

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Portman said his amendment would ensure that bridges deemed “structurally obsolete” or “deficient” are fixed ahead of any others.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the chairwoman of the Appropriations subcommittee that handled the bill, said she supported Portman’s amendment. She also said the bill adds $500 million to the bridge repair funds.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted 73-26 to proceed to consideration of S. 1243, the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bill, which funds government transportation and housing agencies.

There is a $91 billion difference in spending levels between the House and Senate appropriations this year. For the THUD bill, the difference is $10 billion. The Senate bill is  $54 billion, while the House has a $44 billion bill, which is a cut of $7 billion from last year’s spending level.

The House Republican bill cuts the Community Development Block Grant program and high-speed rail projects, while Senate Democrats maintain most existing funding for those programs.

The Senate bill would also prohibit the Federal Aviation Administration from using rules on domestic drones, limits Amtrak employee overtime and requires the Department of Transportation to notify Congress of grants it issues.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced Wednesday morning that he wants to “wrap this bill up” within the next 24 hours.

Murray and subcommittee ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) encouraged their colleagues to introduce their amendments by Wednesday afternoon, otherwise they wouldn’t get a vote.