Sept. 11, 2008 — Congressional legislation restoring the beleaguered federal highway trust fund has been passed by both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and now awaits President Bush's signature.
The trust is funded by federal gas tax revenues and is nearly depleted.
The shortfall comes as a result of a decrease in overall motorist driving after fuel costs climbed. The lack of business at the gas pump has decreased the revenue accrued from the gasoline tax, thus potentially threatening road projects in every state and territory.
"All of our federal highway projects could have been affected," Department of Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls said.
While the current phases for Mandela Circle on St. Thomas and the Christiansted Bypass on St. Croix are funded by local revenues, subsequent work on these projects could be impacted if the federal funds were diminished, according to Smalls.
Penning urgent letters to U.S. Senate leaders Tuesday, Gov. John deJongh Jr. urged support for the bill to head off the shortfall.
The U.S. Senate approved the emergency legislation by voice vote Wednesday evening, while the House passed the legislation 376-29 on Thursday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid issued a statement Wednesday after Senate Republicans dropped their opposition to funding necessary highway projects by transferring $8 billion from the general fund to the highway trust fund.
"I am pleased that after months of partisan delay, Senate Republicans have finally recognized that we must act to prevent the Highway Trust Fund from drying up," Reid said.
"Each $1 billion we spend on highway projects creates 47,500 jobs — in a year when employers have cut good-paying jobs every single month and when the unemployment rate has reached a five-year high, it is past time that we act to strengthen our economy and improve our roads."
In a release Wednesday, deJongh said he was extremely pleased at passage of federal legislation which safeguards a number of Virgin Islands highway projects.
"The governor looks forward to approval by President Bush and encourages his support for the legislation because of what is at stake in terms of local highway projects," said Jean Greaux, Government House communications director.
Smalls was optimistic that the president would sign off on the legislation, although there had been some talk of a veto.
"We anticipate his signature by close of business tomorrow," Smalls said.
The president had threatened the veto for this legislation if it was accompanied by a lot of earmarks.
"This has no earmarks," Smalls said. "This is strictly the $8 billion to maintain the funding for the Highway Trust Fund."
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