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PRESIDENT PROPOSES TRANSFORMING EXISTING INTERSTATES INTO TOLL ROADS.

Byline: Nancy Mathis Houston Chronicle

President Clinton unveiled Wednesday a six-year, $175 billion transportation plan that would allow states to place tolls on interstate highways, bolster environmental protections and help put welfare recipients to work.

``Today, we are taking the next big step to maintain and modernize our transportation system and to make sure it is the best in the world,'' Clinton said. ``It will create tens of thousands of jobs for our people, help move people from welfare to work, protect our air and water, and improve our highway safety.''

Clinton's plan would increase core highway funding by 30 percent, expand the air quality program by 30 percent, increase funds for drunk-driving prevention by 60 percent, and boost money for bike paths and walkways by 25 percent. It also would provide $600 million for transportation alternatives, such as van pools, to get welfare recipients to jobs.

Clinton announced his transportation proposal, dubbed the National Economic Crossroads Transportation Efficiency Act, with great fanfare at the White House. He was joined by Vice President Al Gore and Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater.

A controversial aspect of Clinton's plan calls for removal of restrictions that prevent states from charging tolls on interstate highways. States would be given the option of using tolls as a funding source for local transportation projects. ``States would have that option. We don't mandate it, we don't tell them they have to do it,'' said Mortimer Downey, deputy transportation secretary. ``We believe that in some parts of the country, especially in congested metropolitan areas where the interstate system is not just the way to link cities together but is really their travel pattern to and from downtown, they would consider it.''

States currently can charge tolls on federal bridges and tunnels, but only to finance those projects.

The provision already has drawn opposition from groups such as the American Automobile Association. ``The public has already paid for these roads through the 18.3-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax. Adding tolls is double taxation, clear and simply,'' said James L. Kolstad, AAA vice president.

Clinton's transportation proposal also is linked to environmental issues and welfare reform.

``For too long, too many people have believed that strong transportation and a clean environment could not go hand in hand. This bill proves that that is not true,'' Clinton said.

He said the measure would provide $1.3 billion a year to reduce air pollution and millions of dollars to preserve wetlands and open spaces.

The Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program would provide incentives to scrap high-polluting, pre-1980 vehicles and encourage innovative projects, such as buses fueled by cleaner-burning natural gas. The president promoted provisions that would help transport welfare recipients to new jobs.

``One of the biggest barriers facing people who move from welfare to work is finding transportation to get to their jobs, their training programs, their children's day-care center,'' Clinton said.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 13, 1997
Words:481
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