Saturday, July 24, 2004

Voinovich: Road funds acceptable

Senator says higher White House number not enough, but would be OK

By James Pilcher
Enquirer staff writer

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, who is a member of a key conference committee ironing out the highway bill that could help fund part of the Brent Spence Bridge replacement project, says the White House's latest proposal isn't enough.

But Voinovich, who has led the charge for the higher amount proposed by the Senate, said through his spokeswoman that he would reluctantly take the $286 billion offered by the Bush administration to start creating the jobs he feels are at stake.

"The senator believes we need a highway bill since this is a major jobs bill, and he's glad we're still talking," Voinovich spokeswoman Marcie Ridgway. "He would be disappointed in that number, but he would, however, support it, with the caveat that it does not drastically change the format of the bill."

Thursday, the White House indicated it would accept a bill that would authorize $299 billion over six years, a figure that would actually be $286 billion after some contracts were voided. The administration had previously said that anything over $256 billion could be vetoed.

The House bill calls for $275 billion over six years, while the Senate is asking for $318 billion. Voinovich, who has clashed with the White House over the issue, is calling for the higher figure.

Voinovich has used the Brent Spence project as an example of why the nation needs more federal highway funds. He toured the bridge with a high-ranking Transportation Department official this month. Local officials also have tied to the bill their hopes of getting enough funds to continue at least environmental and design work on the project.

A preliminary estimate for replacing the 40-year-old bridge is $750 million.

Ridgway said Voinovich feels that the new level would still be large enough to get some money for the bridge, with actual construction money to come in the next six-year funding cycle. The House version of the bill now calls for $4 millionfor the bridge, but the Senate version does not mention it specifically.

"We're hoping to give the bridge the funding it deserves," Ridgway said.



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