The U.S. Senate voted to keep vital federal dollars flowing to road and highway projects for three more months on Thursday, averting a funding cut-off at the peak of the summer construction season.
The 91-4 vote on the short-term patch, which the House of Representatives approved on Wednesday, sends the measure to President Barack Obama for his signature. Without the money, the federal Highway Trust Fund would become insolvent Saturday.
“Another short-term extension is not my preference, and it’s not going to get the job done when it comes to fixing our infrastructure problems,” U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said in a statement Thursday. “But letting the Highway Trust Fund go broke is not an option.”
The $12 billion bill, which extends highway and mass transit funding through Oct. 29, sets the stage for a fall debate between House and Senate lawmakers over how to address the long-term needs of America’s crumbling transportation infrastructure, while simultaneously trying to avoid a government shutdown on Oct. 1.
Earlier on Thursday, the Senate also voted 65-34 to approve a bipartisan long-term highway bill that would authorize $350 billion in transportation spending over six years. If enacted by Congress, the legislation would become the first long-term highway funding package since 2005.
“Our roads, bridges, and other vital infrastructure across the country are in a terrible state of disrepair, and unless we act to fix them, not only are future generations going to pay the price – literally – to make up for our inaction, but people’s safety will be put at risk. If that’s not enough of a call to action, then I don’t know what it is,” King said. “This bill is by no means perfect – but it’s a long-term solution that helps provide the certainty needed to invest in fixing this serious problem.”
The bill also won praise from U.S. Susan Collins, R-Maine, because she said it would allow state departments of transportation to continue to make improvements and investments in local infrastructure.
“These investments will create jobs, boost our nation’s economy, and keep us competitive in the global marketplace,” she said in a statement Thursday.
House lawmakers, who left for a five-week summer break Wednesday, are expected to craft their long-term legislation while this week’s short-term patch remains in place.
The Senate’s long-term legislation has already been rejected by Republican leaders in the House, including House Speaker John Boehner.
Boehner and McConnell are already working behind the scenes to minimize their differences over the legislation.
“We all want to work out the best possible legislation for the American people in a conference later this year,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday.