House transportation leaders yesterday said they will push for as much as $69 billion of infrastructure grants to states to be included in any job-creation bill that is put forward and approve an extension of the current law.

“Given my druthers, $69 billion would be a nice down payment” on federal infrastructure programs, House Transportation Committee chairman James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., said during a press conference.

The dollar amount is based on a report issued yesterday at the press conference held by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the committee.

AASHTO found that states have 9,500 potential highway, bridge, transit, port, rail, and aviation projects totaling $69.5 billion that could move forward within 120 days.

About $15 billion of ready-to-go capital projects were reported by public transportation groups such as urban transit authorities, according to William W. Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association, which joined in the press conference.

Transportation advocates provided similar numbers during the run-up to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was enacted in February and provided more than $40 billion of transportation funds.

Two months before ARRA was enacted, AASHTO said states had more than 5,000 projects valued at $65 billion that could be started within 180 days. APTA said last October that it had identified 559 public transit “ready-to-go” projects totaling $8 billion.

States have since lost their ability to contract for about $8.7 billion of projects because of a mandatory rescission that was included in the current  law — Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users, or SAFETEA-LU — that expired at the end of September.

Federal transportation programs have been operating under stopgap funding measures since then. The current one expires Dec. 18.

The press conference came ahead of a White House jobs summit set for today. Oberstar said that a “person in the White House” who wished to remain anonymous had been delivering “backdoor messages” to the committee, indicating that the White House would support a bill that includes transportation investment.

In the meantime, Oberstar said, “we will have to provide an extension of authority of the current law.”

The chairman, who has steadfastly fought for a full six-year rather than temporary reauthorization of SAFETEA-LU, said he would prefer for the extension to be less than six months.

He added that unless states receive some assurance of more federal grants, they will start cutting back their own share of transportation spending in May or June.

“Whatever extension we’ll have will include a timeline” for the House and Senate to pass a multi-year reauthorization bill, Oberstar said.

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