Mineta: Bill would ease port congestion

Traffic congestion outside the main gates of America’s seaports would be reduced in President Bush’s highway bill awaiting action in Congress, United States Transportation Secretary Norman Y Mineta said during a visit to Jacksonville FL’s port docks.

“What good is it to have state-of-the-art equipment on the docks if container trucks slow to a crawl outside the main gates?” Mineta asked after a tour of Jaxport’s Blount Island Terminal.

He said the president’s bill, known as the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA), would provide funding for port-related road projects to reduce congestion as trucks hauling hundreds of thousands of trailers headed for market leave their docks each day.

Congress has given the highway bill, which had been set to expire May 31, an extension until June 30 to provide time for negotiating differences between House and Senate versions. The latest extension is the seventh since the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) expired Sept 30, 2003. Bush has promised to veto any bill that exceeds the record $284 billion level set by the House version. The Senate's version totaled $295 billion.

Mineta said Bush is committed to working with Congress to pass a bill, but he warned that the administration would not “give in to pressure to approve irresponsible plans that would no doubt lead to higher deficits or new gas taxes.”

The SAFETEA proposal is the first to include provisions that would help pay for better highway connections to ports, said Mineta.

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