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Transport plan seeks larger trucks

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Change in plans

Rick Nichols was one of the first residents who bought into the Fieldview development near Summerville where houses were in the $400,000 range, such as the two houses on the right. The developer now is building houses, such as the one at left, that Nichol

WASHINGTON — House Republicans are proposing to spend about $260 billion over the next 41/2 years on transportation programs, as well as substantially increase the size of trucks permitted on highways, according to a draft bill being introduced this week.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and other GOP leaders are expected to introduce the bill today. Mica’s committee is poised to approve it Thursday.

Significant policy changes in the bill include giving states far greater power — and the U.S. Department of Transport far less say — over how federal transportation aid is spent. The bill also consolidates many existing transportation programs, and makes it easier and quicker for road construction and other transportation projects to meet the requirements of federal environmental laws.

States could permit trucks weighing up to 97,000 pounds — and in some cases as much as 126,000 pounds — on interstate highways under the bill. The current limit is 80,000 pounds in most states. Increased weight limits are supported by the trucking industry, but opposed by safety advocates.

“Larger and heavier trucks mean bigger safety risks for highway drivers,” Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., wrote to House lawmakers last week.

The bill would maintain current spending on transportation despite declining gasoline and diesel fuel taxes, which historically have paid for highway programs. A separate committee will decide how to cover the gap between gas-tax revenues and the spending levels in the bill. GOP leaders have said they plan to use revenue from expanded oil and natural gas drilling. Congressional aides said it would include drilling off the Virginia coast and in federal leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The aides weren’t authorized to speak publicly and asked not to be named.

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