Senate Passed Highway Bill image

Wednesday, March 14th, the U.S. Senate approved a two-year, $109 billion bill to pay for highway construction and boost auto safety regulations.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, praised the bill, saying it “will improve the mobility of people and commerce while reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality.”

He added that Michigan will get more than $1.1 billion per year for two years for highways and $131.3 million per year for two years in mass transit. In 1978 Michigan was receiving around 75 cents back on every dollar in federal gas taxes paid, which became 80 cents in 1991, 90.5 cents in 1998 and 92 cents in 2005. The current authorization to collect the 18.4-cent federal gasoline tax expires on March 30th, a tax currently raises about $100 million a day to repair the nation’s roads and fund other projects.

The Senate rejected an amendment which would have extended tax breaks for many clean energy efforts that would have cost about $12 billion and also a bid to boost incentives for natural gas vehicles. The Senate’s bill mandates safety belts on all commercial buses, strengthening safety inspections, driver training, raising dramatically the maximum fines for manufacturers that delay recalls and hiking fines for odometer fraud to up to $1 million, among others.

Automakers have questioned the need for new auto safety measures. They note that in 2010, the number of road deaths fell to its lowest number since 1949 — less than 33,000.