By  on August 14, 2007

WASHINGTON — Congress took several legislative steps to improve the nation's complex and aging network of highways, railways and ports before it adjourned for the August recess, leaving retailers concerned about cost and implementation, but port authorities pleased about funding for security programs.

In the fresh round of legislation, Congress considered three bills designed to strengthen security and improve the infrastructure of the overworked transportation system.

The House passed two spending bills — one to fund the Department of Homeland Security that would boost federal grants for port security programs and a second funding programs at the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development for highway improvements. The Senate has not taken up either spending bill and President Bush has vowed to veto both of them because they exceed the spending limit in his budget request blueprint for fiscal year 2008 that begins on Oct. 1.

Bush signed one of the three bills into law, implementing many of the security recommendations of the 9/11 commission and also requiring that 100 percent of all U.S.-bound cargo containers be scanned at foreign ports within five years.

Improving the transportation system has become an issue in the 2008 presidential race, in the wake of the bridge collapse in Minneapolis in which nine people are known to have died.

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., N.Y.), the front-runner in polls for the Democratic party's nomination, outlined a comprehensive infrastructure improvement plan on Wednesday in New Hampshire. Clinton said if she were elected president, she would propose spending $10 billion over 10 years to repair and upgrade roads, bridges and seaports. The senator said she would increase the budget for the DOT's congestion reduction programs by nearly 50 percent to $600 million a year.

"The degradation of our infrastructure isn't just a serious threat to our safety; it is also a grave threat to our economy," Clinton said.

She also proposed to create a national policy for ports, which she said are "in substandard condition," and address congestion at the major terminals with state and local governments and the private sector.

The House-passed budget proposal for the DOT for fiscal year 2008 would authorize $50.7 billion in discretionary spending, which is $4 billion more than enacted last year and $2.8 billion more than Bush requested. Highway improvement programs would receive $40.2 billion, which is $1.25 billion more than enacted last year and $631,000 more than Bush requested.

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