House panel debating $494 billion infrastructure measure

FILE PHOTO: An aerial photo shows the University Bridge at left and the Ship Canal Bridge I-5 heading into downtown Seattle in Seattle, Washington, U.S. March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

(Reuters) - A U.S. House of Representatives panel is debating on Wednesday a Democratic plan to boost infrastructure spending that aims to fix crumbling roads and highways and reduce carbon pollution.

The $494 billion five-year surface transportation bill wouldprovide $319 billion to fix 47,000 structurally deficientbridges and make other repairs, $105 billion for mass transit, build electric vehicle charging stations and invest nearly $30 billion in passenger railroad Amtrak and rail infrastructure.

With a presidential election looming, few believe Congresswill tackle infrastructure this year, The current surface transportation law expires Sept. 30.

“Our system of roads, bridges, public transit and rail systems are badly outdated,” said Representative Peter DeFazio, a Democrat who chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “For years, Congress has bypassed solving the toughest problems plaguing our surface transportation system, allowing the system to limp along and fall farther and farther into disrepair and disservice.”

The top Republican on the panel, Representative Sam Graves, said the bill should be called the “my-way-or-the-highway bill,” saying the panel is “now considering a $500 billion bill that we don’t know how to pay for.”

In April 2019, President Donald Trump and Democratic leadershad agreed to spend $2 trillion on infrastructure, withouthashing out a way to pay for it.

The White House plans to release its own proposal to extend current surface transportation funding for 10 years that could top $1 trillion.

Congress abandoned the practice of largely requiring road users to pay for road repairs and has not hiked the federal gas tax since 1993.

Since 2008, Congress has transferred about $141billion in general revenues to the Highway Trust Fund. Tomaintain existing spending levels, Congress will need to find$107 billion over five years, government auditors say.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler