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U.S. Senate OKs L.A. Transportation Bill

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa praised lawmakers for approving the bill, which would accelerate major transportation projects in the city.

The Westside Subway Extension and other transportation projects in Los Angeles got a stamp of approval from the United States Senate on Wednesday.

Senators approved the bill in a 74-22 vote. The Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act [TIFIA] would add $109 billion to a federal loan program for transportation projects. Rolled into that $109 billion is $1 billion specifically for the federal loan program called America Fast Forward, a name coined by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

"If the House passes a transportation bill with America Fast Forward, local transit agencies will be able to compete for $2 billion in low-interest TIFIA loans," Villaraigosa said. "In Los Angeles, this will allow us to create 166,000 jobs now by accelerating bus and rail projects."

Villaraigosa says the money would allow Los Angeles County to complete 12 major transportation projects in 10 years instead of the projected 30 years.

Villaraigosa praised senators, including Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who sponsored the bill.

"The bipartisan effort to create jobs and speed expansion of our transportation systems took a major step forward today with Senate passage of a surface transportation bill that includes America Fast Forward," Villaraigosa said.

A separate bill was approved by Transportation Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives last month. It currently includes a measure that would allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and off the east coast. Congress has a deadline of March 31 to get the bill to President Barack Obama. The bill has not been voted on by the entire House yet.

"Progress is being made, despite efforts to declare the House bill dead," Transportation Committee spokesman Justin Harclerode said.

Boxer hopes House Republicans will pass the bill before the March 31 deadline. Missing the deadline would cause "chaos" and stall projects unnecessarily.

"It's their job to get this done," Boxer said. "There is not one earmark in this bill. This is a reform bill. This is a compromise bill. This is a fully paid-for bill. There is nothing here that should upset them."

If approved by the House, a committee would merge the House and Senate bills into one version.

This report was compiled with information from City News Service.

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