United States Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Chairman of the Environment & Public Works Committee, today hailed passage of the much-needed Highway Bill that provides $295 billion for maintenance, and improvement of the nation's roads, bridges, mass transit, and safety over the 2005-2009 period. The Highway Bill, which Inhofe managed on the Senate floor over the past two and a half weeks, passed the Senate with a 89 to 11 vote. "The Senate took a critical step forward today to improve our nation's transportation infrastructure while creating millions of new job opportunities to help our economy grow," Senator Inhofe said. "This is not just a transportation issue, but is also an economic development and safety issue for our neighborhoods, communities and the nation. A safe, effective transportation system is the foundation of a growing economy. In Oklahoma, we rank dead last in the nation in the condition of our bridges. The importance of this over-due legislation cannot be over-stated, and I am proud we have taken this critical step forward. "I am also proud on the increased funding Oklahoma will receive over the 2005-2009 period, The $2.8 billion figure for Oklahoma in this legislation represents a $654 million, or 31 percent, increase over the last highway authorization bill. One of my top priorities as Chairman of the EPW Committee has been to increase the rate of return for donor states such as Oklahoma, and this legislation is a step in the right direction, increasing Oklahoma's rate of return to over 94 cents per dollar in 2009. "I want to thank all of the members of the Committee and the Senate who have joined me in working very hard to craft and pass this important legislation in a bipartisan way. I look forward to appointing conferees as soon as possible so that we can begin the conference and get this bill to the President before the looming May 31st deadline for the current highway authorization passes." Today's bill, called the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003 (SAFETEA), will provide $295 billion to address the nation's surface transportation needs over the next 5 years. Under Inhofe's bill, Oklahoma's federal funding for transportation will increase almost $131 million per year and create over 31,000 new jobs.