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Clinton signs transit bill

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President Clinton signed into law Tuesday a massive transportation bill, which authorizes federal money for such Utah projects as I-15 reconstruction and light-rail mass transit.

It culminated a yearslong struggle for such money by Utah politicians, and they say it finally corrects what had been decades of unfairly low funding for Utah roads.The bill authorizes $1.8 billion in federal transportation money for Utah over the next six years - money that still must clear annual budget and appropriations fights.

But the new law revises highway-funding formulas so Utah should receive $204.97 million a year for the next six years, for a total of $1.22 billion.

That is a whopping 58 percent more than the $130 million average the state has been receiving annually.

Also, Utah leaders say the bill contains $640 million for mass transit in Utah.

The new law also gives Utah unique flexibility among the states to mix highway and mass-transit money as needed to complete a "program of projects" for the 2002 Olympics - ensuring that cash-flow problems should not slow key projects.

The law also allows the secretary of transportation to use his discretionary funds to provide extra help to Olympics-related projects and instructs him to give them his highest priority.

The law earmarks $23.75 million for several local projects, ranging from $5.25 million to reconstruct U.S. 89 in Kaysville to $8.25 million to begin the Cache Valley Highway in Logan and $8 million for a new I-15 interchange in St. George.

Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah, the only Utah member of Congress on a transportation committee, said Utah should receive its first beefed-up payment under the bill on Wednesday or Thursday.

Cook said: "The governor has said he needs $450 million to finish I-15 without raising taxes, increasing state debt or stripping state budgets such as education. We've delivered."

Democrats also claimed part of the credit for the bill. Dave Jones, Democratic leader of the Utah House of Representatives, was invited by Clinton to attend the bill signing along with Utah's Republican members of Congress.

"This is a terrific example of a coordinated bipartisan effort that only benefits Utah," Jones said. "We are thrilled that Utah will receive the funding to rebuild our infrastructure in time for the 2002 Olympic games."

Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, said the bill corrects some long-time inequities.

"Previous transportation funding formulas basically ignored the needs of states like Utah that had small populations but many miles of roads. Almost without exception, states the size of Tooele County (like New Jersey) would receive more transportation funding than us," he said.

Nationally, the bill would provide $203 billion for highways and mass transit projects over six years - and allows groundbreaking for many projects to begin this election-year summer.

Clinton said the new law "meets the challenge of building the pathways for the future, while maintaining the fiscal discipline that allowed us to achieve the first balanced budget in 29 years and an accompanying very high rate of economic growth."

Cook said Clinton's signing of the bill "was a wonderful moment for me. With the first road payment only a few days away, the only thing needed to make this a perfect week for me is a Jazz win in Chicago."