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Washington, D.C. —  The highway bill set to pass the U.S. Senate today includes significantly more funding than the House-passed version and maintains South Dakota’s historical transportation funding level, Senator John Thune said today.

The transportation bill set to pass the Senate includes roughly $1.307 billion for South Dakota’s road needs over the next 5 years, at least $134 million more than in the same five year period of the bill that passed the House of Representatives in March. Most importantly, the Senate bill maintains South Dakota’s funding percentage of overall federal highway apportionments to states. The State will receive in formula funds over these 5 years amounts averaging 30.74 per cent more than under the average year in the previous transportation bill.

As a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Thune worked to promote South Dakota’s transportation needs and helped craft a multi-year reauthorization bill concerning the nation’s surface transportation program.

“South Dakota’s economy relies on a healthy and robust transportation system,” Thune said. “Rural states have a special interest in making sure America invests in transportation. The Senate bill recognizes South Dakota’s transportation needs.”

The previous transportation bill, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), expired in September 2003 and has languished in both the House and Senate since then. The legislation before the Senate would re-authorize TEA-21 over the next 5 years (2005-2009).

Under the bill that Thune played a role in crafting, South Dakota would see a $335 million increase in formula funding when compared to the six-year period of TEA-21 (1998-2003). The bill passed by the House in March amounted to a $201 million increase in formula funding for the state over that period, but some of the House amounts would be subject to rescission.

“The Senate is making transportation a priority,” Thune said. “A stronger transportation infrastructure will make South Dakota’s economy stronger and create jobs.”

During Senate consideration of this important legislation, Thune successfully authored a host of amendments to benefit South Dakota. One amendment would ensure that highway funding would not be used in certain ways unrelated to transportation. The second amendment would assist state departments of transportation in acquiring property for transportation projects while still providing for an unbiased environmental review. The third would ensure that Indian Tribes are able to nominate roads for designation under the National Scenic Byways program. The fourth struck a provision in the Senate bill that would have delayed much needed transportation improvements. All four of Thune’s amendments were agreed to by the Senate.

Unlike the House bill, which includes individual earmarked transportation projects, the Senate does not add such projects until conference negotiations with the House of Representatives. Nonetheless, Senator Thune succeeded in providing millions in research funding for the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology for work relating to the recycling of asphalt roads ($1.5 million) and roughly $15 million for South Dakota State University to conduct biobased fuel research.