By Keith Laing - 01/31/12 11:50 PM EST
"This is a major start," he said. "Look where we've been, and look where we are today."
"This bill will put Americans back to work rebuilding our roads and bridges and developing new sources of low-cost energy," Mica said in a statement. "This legislation may be the most important jobs measure to pass Congress this year."
Transportation and business groups have been pushing Congress for years to approve a multi-year appropriations bill for transportation and infrastructure. The last funding bill expired in 2009.
But advocates on Tuesday expressed reservations with Mica’s revised proposal.
"Certainly we are happy the House and Senate are opening a discussion, but there's a lot of work to be done," said Edward Wytkind, the president of the AFL-CIO’s transportation trades department.
Wytkind lamented the vast differences between the version of the highway bill that was unveiled by Mica on Thursday and the proposal that has begun moving in the Senate.
In the past, "they have always moved these bills as a 'Big Four' authorizations," he said, referring to the chairman and ranking members of the respective transportation committees in the Senate.
"They moved them as impenetrable, avoided ideological fights and increased the funding so that the next authorization would always be higher than the last one," Wytkind said.
The Senate's version of the transportation bill is shorter, but it appropriates more money for road projects annually. The upper chamber has proposed spending $109 billion per year on the new highway bill, and its version of the legislation relies more on traditional sources of funding, such as the gas tax.
Mica defended the highway bill as a team effort and told reporters to pack a lunch Thursday because he plans to allow amendments during the markup of the bill — a process that could drag on for days.
"Everybody needs to find a way to fund these things," Mica said.
The plan to pay for highways with drilling has riled up environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The New York-based group argued Tuesday that not only is linking highway spending to oil drilling bad for the environment, it also imperils the bill's prospects for being approved by the Democratically controlled Senate.
“Instead of going the bipartisan route taken by the Senate, House Republican leaders have loaded the bill with environmental protection rollbacks, extreme measures that mandate oil drilling just about everywhere and a permit for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline," NRDC President Frances Beinecke said in a statement.
"The American people need a transportation bill; this bill will prevent them from getting one.”
Another provision of the GOP proposal that drew criticism Tuesday was a provision that would increase the weight of trucks allowed on highways from 80,000 to 97,000 pounds.
"Americans don't want 97,000-pound trucks or huge multi-trailers up to 120 feet long on our nation's highways," the lobbying group for a competing method of shipping, the Association of American Railroads, said in a statement. "Nor is it fair that even more of the public's tax dollars will be used to pay for the road and bridge damage inflicted by massive trucks."
The Coalition for Transportation Productivity, which argues the other side of the truck weight issue, was more enthusiastic about the House highway bill proposal.
“The American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act recognizes that states need the ability to create safer, greener, more efficient shipping on their interstate highways,” CTP Executive Director John Runyan said in a statement.
“Truck capacity has dropped by 16 percent since the recession started, and the 30-year-old federal vehicle weight limit compounds the problem by forcing many trucks to travel when they are only partially full," he continued.
For his part, Mica stressed Tuesday that the bill he unveiled "wasn't final.”
"I tried to do everything I could … to work with everyone," he said