The House of Representatives has produced a seriously flawed transportation bill that cannot compare with the forward-looking bill approved this summer by the Senate. Unless House members in conference this weekend accept aspects of the Senate's superior version, this bill seems headed for a certain presidential veto.
Both bills offer the most sweeping changes in transportation funding in 35 years. But with the interstate highway system nearing completion, now is the time for a new approach in which the emphasis shifts to repairing existing roads and promoting mass transit alternatives. Yet the House version continues the highway-expansion syndrome, and laces it with plenty of big-money pork-barrel politics.
Happily, House leaders abandoned their earlier insistence on an unpopular 5-cent gas tax increase that President Bush said he would veto. Unhappily, congressmen persist in trying to pour most of the $151 billion in their bill into costly new road projects. Even worse, congressmen earmarked $5.4 billion for purely political purposes -- 489 "special projects" sprinkled liberally among congressional districts to ensure support. The prime offender, not surprisingly, was Rep. Robert Roe, chairman of the Public Works Committee, who slipped in a project for his New Jersey district that would be immune from environmental impact studies and federal contract procedures.