Boxer defends highway bill in New York Times letter

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"This bill includes significant reforms to modernize federal transportation programs, including eliminating earmarks, introducing performance measures and targets to improve accountability, expanding innovative financing programs to leverage limited federal resources and consolidating programs by two-thirds to increase efficiency and flexibility for states and cities," she wrote.

The newspaper offered a similar analysis of the measure in its July 1 editorial.

"Though the final bill is far from perfect, it more nearly resembles the solid Senate measure crafted by Ms. Boxer and Mr. Inhofe, the chairwoman and ranking member of the Senate public works committee, than the appalling House version," the paper wrote.

"It will sustain current financing for 27 months, at a cost of $120 billion, along the lines of the Senate bill," the original editorial continued. "And it does not include two anti-environmental riders pressed by the House — one approving the risky Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada, the other preventing regulation of toxic coal ash waste from power plants."

Boxer defended the transportation bill in her letter from criticisms from environmentalists and bike and pedestrian supporters about provisions in the final version of the bill that loosen environmental regulations on road and transit construction.

The provisions had been pushed by Republicans in the House, but they were accepted by Senate Democrats in exchange for the GOP dropping a mandate forcing the Obama administration to approve the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Boxer said in her letter that the transportation bill "actually increases the amount of financing that 'transportation alternative' projects like bicycle and pedestrian pathways are eligible for, although in some cases these projects must compete for money."

"The bill expedites project delivery," she added of the environmental provisions. "Projects with less than $5 million in federal money are categorically excluded from reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, but they must still comply with other environmental laws and federal permitting requirements."

Environmentalists have sharply criticized the transportation bill, with one group, the Arlington, Va.-based Nature Conservancy, calling it "a sad event in the history of American conservation.”

The bicyclist coalition America Bikes has offered a similarly pessimistic take on the transportation bill, calling it "a bad bill for biking and walking."  

President Obama is expected to sign the transportation bill on Friday afternoon. The White House is hoping to using the signing ceremony to counter criticisms about a weaker-than-expected unemployment report released on Friday morning.

Figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed the U.S. economy added only 80,000 jobs.

Supporters of the transportation bill, including Boxer, have argued the measure will help create jobs.

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