Originally created 11/25/03

Transit projects hit speed bump



Last week, it was U.S. Rep. Max Burns, R-Ga.Now, U.S. Rep. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., is touting the possibility of funding for transportation projects in the Augusta area.

The difference is Mr. Burns announced the possible funding first, saying it was all but certain and likely was to be approved by Congress by last Friday and signed into law the week after Thanksgiving.

Officials for Mr. DeMint's office said Monday they didn't issue a similar statement last week because the funding isn't written in stone yet.

The money - a total of $9 million for Augusta Regional Airport, Palmetto Parkway, a downtown Augusta railroad relocation and a widening of U.S. Highway 25 - could be in limbo for as long as two months.

"I think what really is important to hit home on is Congressman DeMint has worked very hard to secure funding for this project (the Palmetto Parkway in South Carolina)," said Kara Borie, a spokeswoman for Mr. DeMint's office. "But we want to be honest with everybody and say, 'Lets just go through the steps."'

The funds are part of a reauthorization of federal transportation money. Ms. Borie said Congress did not approve the extra money for those projects by Friday, as some expected.

"It has been delayed because leadership, for whatever reason, had decided to not put it up for a vote yet," Ms. Borie said. "We're hearing different things at this point, but it could possibly happen next week sometime or it could be as late at Feb. 1."

The Augusta funds were agreed to last week in a House-Senate conference committee. Officials agree that was a large hurdle to clear.

Now the delay is in getting the full Senate and House to formally approve the conference report, Ms. Borie said, so the president can sign it into law.

For now, Congress has agreed to keep transportation spending at current levels either until the conference report is approved or until Jan. 31.

"At this point, it's premature to say that the funding exists," Ms. Borie said.

Jaillene Erickson, a spokeswoman for Mr. Burns, said the transportation conference report didn't make it to a vote by Friday because of a full legislative schedule that included a major Medicare bill.

She said word of the funding was released last week because Mr. Burns wanted to share the good news even if it hadn't been finally approved.

"Each office has the opportunity to release information when it chooses, and Max was excited about the inclusion of the funds," she said.

U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, R-S.C., also has been credited with working on the funding. His office, however, has not issued a statement.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3904 or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.