Senate gets $105 billion transportation bill with more state leeway

May 23, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- A $105 billion transportation bill to give states unprecedented freedom to decide how to spend federal highway money was sent to the Senate floor yesterday.

The bill includes provisions that would affect most U.S. motorists and commuters, including continuing restrictions on double- and triple-trailer trucks, continuing the 65-mph speed limit for some roads and strengthening emphasis on mass transit.

Overall, the five-year bill would shift the highway program's emphasis from construction to maintenance, recognizing that a 30-year era of massive road building is ending with the imminent completion of the interstate system.

"We have poured enough concrete," said Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., the bill's principal author. "The question now is: How do we move from the interstate era to the next era?"

The Senate is expected to take up the legislation by the middle of June. A House committee is still drawing up its transportation bill.

Under the Senate bill, states would be given new freedom to spend half of all highway money for other transportation projects, from mass transit to installing sidewalk bicycle racks.

The legislation, passed 13-1 by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, includes:

* A ban on double- and triple-trailer trucks on the interstate system except in the 20 states in which they are now allowed. Maryland banned triple trailers in 1988. Double trailers are allowed on some Maryland highways.

* A permanent extension of the 65-mph speed limit for certain rural, non-interstate roads. The speed limit had been set to return to 55 mph.

* An end to federal penalties, in the form of reduced highway funds, for states in which a high percentage of motorists ignore the 55-mph speed limit.

Several states, including Maryland, have been cited for abuses of the 55-mph law, but no penalties have ever been imposed.

* Financial incentives for states to adopt mandatory motorcycle helmet and automobile safety belt laws.

* A $700 million program to research and build a prototype magnetic levitation railway, which would allow trains to travel safely at higher speeds. Japan already has a "mag lev" train that reaches 200 mph.

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