President Barack Obama signed the new two-year transportation bill, which also included the extension of lowered student loan interest rates Friday, bringing nearly two and a half years of negotiations that threatened to remove highway and transit funding for states and localities to a close.
Though the extension of the transit bill maintains the $100 billion necessary to continue construction of transportation projects, very little is changed.
Many of the changes lawmakers hoped to see in the bill -- an increase in the gas tax, increased development of biking, walking and mass transit projects; and extended infrastructure repair -- didn't make it into the final version of the bill. Furthermore, the bill only funds transportation projects for 27 months, rather than the standard six years.
President Obama indicated in his bill-signing speech that there was more to do in transportation infrastructure that wasn't accomplished in the bill. “For months, I’ve been calling on Congress to take half the money we’re no longer spending on war and use it to do some nation-building here at home,” he said. “There’s work to be done building roads and bridges and wireless networks. There are hundreds of thousands of construction workers that are ready to do it.”
The bill also keeps student loan interest rates from doubling, but made few changes to the education loan system. Without this extension, students would have seen a $1,000 increase, on average, in their loan payments.
As with the transportation portion of the bill, President Obama praised the extension but called for more progress. “I’ve asked Congress to reform and expand the financial aid that’s offered to students. And I’ve been asking them to help us give 2 million Americans the opportunity to learn the skills that businesses in their areas are looking for right now through partnerships between community colleges and employers,” he said.
While the bill included few changes, the President, members of Congress and the affected workers and students present at the bill's signing saw the legislation as an accomplishment in what many have viewed as a gridlocked, do-nothing Congress. “This is an outstanding piece of business. And I’m very appreciative of the hard work that Congress has done on it. My hope is, is that this bipartisan spirit spills over into the next phase,” Obama said.