WASHINGTON — Congressional negotiators reached an agreement Wednesday on a highway bill that will essentially mean status quo funding for the next 27 months, but will give states more flexibility in how they spend the money and reduce the time needed for environmental reviews on construction projects, Sen. Jim Inhofe said.
Inhofe, one of the lead negotiators for the Senate, said Oklahoma’s funding would remain about $600 million a year, and the state would get back more money than state motorists pay in federal gas taxes.
Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said Republicans dropped demands for requiring the construction of the northern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline, while Democrats agreed to streamlining the environmental review process.
A strong supporter of the Keystone pipeline, Inhofe said the deal was a good one since he expects the pipeline ultimately will be approved.
The House and Senate may vote on the bill in the next two days, just beating the deadline for the expiration of highway programs and the authority to collect the federal gas tax. Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, one of the House negotiators on the bill, was not available for comment Wednesday.
“The agreement struck on the highway conference report is great news for jobs and economic growth in Oklahoma and across the nation,” Inhofe said.
“As with any compromise, we didn’t get everything we wanted, but I believe we truly have a good bill — one conservatives can be proud to support.”
Inhofe said the bill would:
•Reduce the number of transportation programs covered by the bill by two-thirds, eliminating and consolidating those that are “duplicative or don’t serve a national goal.”
•Reduce the environmental review process from an average of 15 years to seven years.
•Allow states to address their highest priorities rather than ones established in Washington.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the lead Senate negotiator, said, “We speed up project delivery, cut red tape and do it without jeopardizing environmental laws. For the first time, we send half of the funds for bike paths and pedestrian walkways directly to local entities, and we protect those funds while giving states more flexibility on their share.
“Our country needs the kind of economic boost that this bill offers, and I am looking forward to getting it to the president’s desk.”