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Deadline looming, congressmen hopeful transportation funding bill can be passed

Updated: July 24, 2012 9:50AM

Progress is being made as the deadline approaches to pass a bipartisan federal transportation bill to support road, bridge and rail funding, three local congressmen said Friday.

After nine extensions and 1,001 days, current funding comes to an end on June 30.

But after recent marathon negotiations among members of the House and Senate there has been “encouraging progress and a renewed commitment” to try to get a bill done as quickly as possible, U.S. Rep Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) said.

Lipinski stood with Reps. Robert Dold (R-Ill.) and Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) at the Wacker Drive reconstruction site in downtown Chicago on Friday to show support for the bill.

“Progress so far has been good,” Lipinski said. “I’ve heard that real compromises are being made by both sides and I’ve also heard the word is that Speaker [John] Boehner has told his members to get this done. We don’t want any more extensions.”

Congress has struggled to approve a long-term bill since last year. Three million construction jobs are at stake, officials say.

While mass transit funding was a sticking point nearly five months ago when a Senate transportation bill was introduced, it’s no longer a dividing factor, Lipinski said.

The biggest problem? The Highway Trust Fund is low on money, Lipinski said. Congress has to find a way to fill an $11 billion to $12 billion gap in the fund so the nation can spend as much money as it historically has on transportation projects.

The stickier issue in the negotiations is a Republican proposal to approve the Keystone XL Oil pipeline, which would transport synthetic crude oil from Canada to multiple U.S. destinations, including Illinois refineries.

Although Lipinski supports the pipeline, some Democrats say they won’t approve the proposal until an environmental review process can be done.

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