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Federal bill will boost state projects

SALEM — A federal transportation bill signed Friday by President Barack Obama includes help for several Oregon transportation projects.

The Oregon Department of Transportation says state and local highway funding will increase by 5 percent to $507 million in the first year, with additional hikes over the next four years. Oregon will also get a boost in transit funding. The money is not earmarked to specific projects.

Obama signed the five-year, $305-billion bill a day after it was overwhelmingly approved by Congress to address the nation's aging and congested transportation systems. The bill is the first long-term transportation plan approved in years, ending a cycle of short-term fixes that have repeatedly rescued the Highway Trust Fund from insolvency.

All seven members of Oregon's congressional delegation voted in favor of the legislation. Rep. Peter DeFazio and Sen. Ron Wyden, both Democrats, played lead roles in negotiating the plan.

"This is a common-sense, bipartisan bill that provides our state and local governments with the certainty they need to begin to plan for long-term projects that bring our aging system into the 21st century," DeFazio said in a statement.

In addition to the boost in funding, the Newberg-Dundee bypass and the Oregon portion of Interstate 205 were designated high-priority corridors, which makes it much more likely that they'll get federal funds in the future. The first phase of the Newberg-Dundee highway is already under construction to relieve the heavily congested Highway 99 in Oregon wine country. Interstate 205, a major artery through the Portland metro area, is also prone to backups.

The two Oregon projects were among just eight projects added to the high-priority list.

"Rebuilding our country's infrastructure creates much-needed certainty for businesses looking to invest and for state legislatures working to unsnarl transportation gridlock keeping too many workers stuck on the road instead of home with their families," Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden said in a statement.

Additionally, the legislation included $95 million in grants for states to experiment with new funding mechanisms to replace the gas tax, which has funded highways for decades but has resulted in ever-declining revenue as vehicles become more fuel-efficient. ODOT says the money may help an Oregon program that's experimenting with a per-mile charge in the lieu of the gas tax.