WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bipartisan proposal for the government to spend $109 billion over two years to upgrade roads, bridges and transit systems and create jobs easily cleared a crucial hurdle in the Senate on Thursday.
In a test of whether the full chamber would support infrastructure legislation in a politically charged election-year climate, the Senate voted 85-11 to allow the bill to proceed to debate next week.
"This is a good vote," said Democrat Barbara Boxer, chairman of the Public Works Committee. "But now the true test comes. We have a lot of work to do complete this legislation."
Boxer appealed to lawmakers not to slow the measure down with unrelated amendments.
"I've seen bills come to the floor and get loaded down. We cannot afford to lose this bill."
The Senate version of the blueprint authorizing federal spending on infrastructure improvements is backed by the White House.
It is smaller than many lawmakers would like, but sharp partisan wrangling over federal budget deficits and the limited amount of government money available for construction projects forced Boxer and other sponsors to restrict the bill's size and duration.
The Senate plan contrasts sharply with a version also due for consideration by the House of Representatives next week. That proposal drafted by Republicans is for five years and would spend $260 billion.
The last long-term law authorizing transportation construction spending expired in 2009. The government has since funded those obligations with a series of temporary spending measures. The current one expires on March 31.
Reporting By John Crawley; Editing by Peter Cooney