CHICAGO - President Bush signed the $286.5 billion transportation bill yesterday, saying it would ease traffic congestion throughout the United States, create hundreds of thousands of jobs and impose stricter vehicular safety standards that will save lives. But critics said the legislation was stuffed with unnecessary and expensive projects that benefited only members of Congress seeking hometown support.
Maryland will receive $2.9 billion in highway funding and more than $900 million in designated mass transit funding. The funding also covers a slew of projects for the state, from new interchanges to bicycle trail extensions.
The bill also earmarks individual projects for future funding, although the money must be designated each year.
Among the Maryland projects authorized are the proposed Red and Green Line commuter service in Baltimore, slated to receive $105.3 million for planning and development.
The Red Line would run, possibly as light rail or a rapid bus service, from Woodlawn to downtown Baltimore; the Green Line would extend the subway to Morgan State University. Also included in the bill is the authorization for planning and engineering money for the Inter-County Connector, which would connect Gaithersburg and Interstate 95. That project is in line for $18 million.
After years of delay over the amount of spending and the division of funds among states, the bill cleared the House and the Senate last month by large bipartisan votes. But some lawmakers and government watchdog groups expressed outrage over the number of individual projects - more than 6,000 - in the legislation.
The bill's price tag was $2.5 billion higher than Bush had requested.
"Our economy depends on us having the most efficient, reliable transportation system in the world," Bush said during the signing ceremony at a Caterpillar Inc. plant in Montgomery, Ill.
But "highways just don't happen," the president said. "People have got to show up and do the work to refit a highway or build a bridge, and they need new equipment to do so. So the bill I'm signing is going to help give hundreds of thousands of Americans good-paying jobs."
He described the legislation as "more than a highway bill; it's also a safety bill" - an assessment with which Joan Claybrook, a longtime auto-safety advocate, agreed.
Claybrook said the bill's provisions "could produce the most significant safety enhancement since air bags were required" in the 1991 highway bill and will "literally save thousands of lives and prevent untold suffering."
The biggest effect, she said, will come from addressing the two deadliest types of accidents, rollover and side-impact crashes, which kill about 20,000 people each year.
The legislation requires the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to create a stability standard designed to prevent rollovers by April 2009 and to update its 34-year-old roof strength standards, Claybrook said.
One of the biggest critics of the bill was Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, one of only four senators who voted against it. He said the estimated $24 billion lawmakers directed to special projects was "egregious."
Sun staff writer Gwyneth K. Shaw contributed to this article.