WASHINGTON - A key Republican senator is opposing an 18-month extension of the current surface transportation law and urging Obama administration officials to use unspent federal stimulus funds to replenish the Highway Trust Fund, which is expected to run out of money this summer.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison from Texas, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, detailed her views and request in a two-page letter sent yesterday to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The letter comes as the Obama administration has proposed an 18-month extension of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users, or SAFETEA-LU, which provides federal funds for highway and transit construction, but is set to expire on Sept. 30.

"I believe an 18-month extension is too long and, instead, the Congress should be urged to act more quickly on a comprehensive highway reauthorization measure," Hutchison told LaHood, essentially siding with House Transportation Committee chairman James Oberstar, D-Minn., who has said he would prefer to let the existing law expire rather than extend it.

But Hutchison is opposed to extending the current method of funding the Highway Trust Fund, which is made up of gas tax revenues, contending that Texas contributes more gas tax revenues to the fund than other states, while receiving less money from the fund.

"I do not think states like Texas should be required to continue funding other states' transportation funding for an additional 18 months at the expense of our own pressing needs," she told LaHood.

Hutchison is proposing that states fund transportation projects either with rebated fuel taxes collected within their borders or with unspent money from the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was enacted in February. The Highway Fairness and Reform Act of 2009 that she introduced in April would allow states to opt out of the current federal highway program and use the fuel taxes they collect for transportation projects.

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