WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Jack Reed praised the U.S. House of Representatives for apparently abandoning its partisan transportation bill and agreeing in principle to consider a Senate version, which would provide Rhode Island with about $515 million over the next two years to improve the state’s roads, bridges, and public transportation system. 

The bipartisan Senate bill, which garnered 85 votes on a recent procedural motion, proposes spending $109 billion nationwide over less than two years. 

“Transportation drives our economy.  Improving our transportation system is a smart investment that will help create jobs here in Rhode Island and provide long-term economic benefits,” said Reed.  “We need to get a robust transportation bill done that will spur job growth and accelerate economic recovery.  We worked hard to reach bipartisan consensus in the Senate, and I am pleased that Speaker Boehner has signaled his willingness to allow this vital bill to move forward.”

The Senate bill, known as the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), would keep surface transportation funding at current levels while reforming some programs to make them more efficient.  Meanwhile, the House bill would eliminate all dedicated funding for public transportation and falls woefully short of making needed investments in fixing our bridges, highways, and railways.

The legislation includes a provision backed by Senator Reed to allow larger transit systems serving areas with high unemployment to use a portion of their federal funding to pay for operations for two years – three if unemployment worsens.  Currently, the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) and other large transit systems are prohibited from using their federal funding for operations.  This will provide a temporary opportunity for transit agencies to maintain service during tough economic times.

The bill also includes “New Starts” provisions that will help streamline the process for the federal approval of new projects and fund projects designed to increase capacity on existing systems, rather than just allow new systems or new lines.

The current transportation authorization expires on March 31, 2012.

The Senate will resume voting on the final amendments to this bill on Tuesday and then vote on final passage.  The U.S. House of Representatives is on recess next week and will return March 19.