Senate committee OKs money for dam bypass

The Senate Appropriations Committee last week approved $16.5 million in federal funding for the Hoover Dam bypass bridge, which is double the amount authorized by Congress last year.

The committee also approved the authorization of bonds to will allow the project to go forward while Arizona and Nevada use future federal highway grants to pay off money borrowed for the project.

"It will help them to start construction of the bypass now, while using the bonds as collateral against future appropriations," Matt Latimer, a spokesman for Sen.

Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said Wednesday.

"We are still trying to get additional funding for the project, but this is definitely a step in the right direction."

U.S.

Highway 93 crosses the Colorado River on Hoover Dam.

U.S.

93 is the only major highway in the nation still restricted as a result of the Sept.

11 terrorist attack, and the U.S.

Department of the Interior has called construction of the bypass its top national-security priority.

Although Kyl was disappointed that Hoover Dam bypass funding was not included in a recent emergency bill to increase spending for counterterrorism , he said he is confident that the funds approved Friday will pass Congress.

"This funding is very good news for Arizona and a significant step forward in constructing the bypass, which is a major national-security priority," Kyl stated in a press release issued Tuesday.

"Through this funding and future appropriations, we will protect Hoover Dam, increase public safety and ease existing burdens on interstate commerce."

Latimer said the bonds will allow construction of the 1,900-foot-long bridge and approximately 3.5 miles of new four-lane highway, which are scheduled for completion in 2007.

While agreeing that restrictions at Hoover Dam are warranted to protect it from attacks, Kyl noted that the resulting 23-mile detour has forced heavy trucks to negotiate narrow, two-lane roads with steep grades.

As a result, traffic fatalities have increased in the area and interstate trade has been adversely affected, he added.

The trucking industry so far has lost an estimated $30 million, according to Kyl.

Construction of the bypass is expected to cost $234 million.

To date, $126 million has been allocated toward the project, including $86 million in federal funds.