Congress, with the sometimes reluctant assent of the Bush administration, is halfway through the task of radically overhauling this nation's federal transportation policy. With the 35-year-old interstate highway system nearing completion, it is time for a new approach, one that gives far greater stress to repairing existing roads and bridges and promoting mass transit programs than to new highway construction.
The president started this reassessment when he proposed a $105-billion, 5-year transportation program with an enlarged national highway system eligible for federal funds. But the Senate, led by the creative Daniel P. Moynihan, refocused this measure on road maintenance, mass transit and flexibility for the states on how to spend much of the money. Before passing the bill this week, 91-7, senators also found ways to inflate the price tag to $123 billion, which angered Mr. Bush.
This measure's greatest innovation is giving states the freedom to decide how to use nearly one-third of the funds. State governments, after all, are in far better position to identify the most pressing local transportation priorities -- be they new roads, bridges, trains, subways or buses. Mass transit would receive greater emphasis from the Senate than under the president's plan.