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Congress addresses transportation, dam safety, and water quality issues

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The 110th Congress got off to a quick start addressing several issues of interest to civil engineers. In mid-February, Congress finally passed, and President Bush signed, the Revised Continuing Appropriations Resolution that establishes federal, fiscal year (FY) 2007 spending levels for a range of domestic and foreign-aid agencies and programs. Included in the $463.5 billion bill are appropriations for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), as well as for natural resource and water infrastructure projects.

According to an analysis by the North American Concrete Alliance (NACA), the federal-aid highway program will receive almost $39 billion, the level authorized by SAFETEA-LU, which is $3.4 billion more than authorized for FY2006. The Airport Improvement Program receives $3.5 billion for aviation construction grants, $765 million more than requested by the Bush administration.

The budget bill also provides $1 billion for the Clean Water state revolving loan program, an increase of $197 million compared with the FY2006 level, according to NACA, and $40 million for the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s small watershed dam rehabilitation program.

The Dam Rehabilitation and Repair Act of 2007 (H.R. 1098) was introduced in the House of Representatives on Feb. 15. The bill would establish a program within the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide grant assistance to states for use in rehabilitation of publicly owned, deficient dams. The federal government would provide as much as 65 percent of the cost of rehabilitation. The bill sets funding for the program at $200 million spread over five years, beginning in FY2008.

On March 7, the bipartisan Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act of 2007 (H.R. 1350/S. 791) was introduced in both the Senate and the House. The purpose of the bill is to implement recommendations made in 2005 by the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration to reduce the threat of invasive species in the lakes, restore fish and wildlife, clean up contaminated sediments, and coordinate water quality management throughout the Great Lakes basin. The bill provides additional funding to states and cities for water infrastructure and for contaminated sediment clean up.

On March 9, the House of Representatives passed the Water Quality Financing Act of 2007 (H.R. 720). According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, which supports the bill, the legislation, among other things, provides $14 billion for the Clean Water Act State Revolving Load Fund program over four years, beginning with $2 billion in FY2008. The bill is now being considered by the Senate. However, President Bush threatened to veto the legislation because, according to the Associated Builders and Contractors, it contains trade union-supported language requiring that Davis-Bacon Act wage rules apply to federally funded clean water projects, and it extends Davis-Bacon rules to projects financed with non-federal funds.