The House passed legislation Tuesday raising the federal disaster relief limit to $100 million, which would enable storm-ravaged areas of California and Nevada to obtain up to $70 million more repairs.
The bill removes the existing $30 million cap on federal aid for emergency relief projects in any one state resulting from a single natural disaster or catastrophe during calendar year 1986.
Passage was by voice vote, and action is expected soon in the Senate, where Sens. Pete Wilson, R-Calif., and Alan Cranston, D-Calif., have sponsored a companion bill.
The California Department of Transportation estimated repairs to federal and state roads and highways would cost $35 million to $50 million, and figured damage to city-county roads at about $15 million.
"Virtually every county in the northern half of our state has been impacted," Rep. Doug Bosco, D-Calif., said. "It is our hope that we can remove restraints at this critical time so the emergency relief fund can be used for the purpose it was intended."
In Bosco's district along the North Coast, the violent storms washed out the north span of a bridge over Rio Dell, and a major landslide on Highway 101 south of Garberville hampered travelers along the main north-south route.
"I hope all of us remember how difficult it is to recover from natural disaster without this aid," Rep. Robert Lagomarsino, R-Calif., said, arguing on the House floor for passage of the measure.
Gov. George Deukmejian has declared disasters in 36 California counties and the White House has approved federal relief for 34 of them, Bosco said.
Rep. Barbara Vucanovich, R-Nev., said five Nevada counties require disaster aid to repair storm damage. Gov. Richard Bryan and President Reagan declared disasters there last month after heavy storms and flooding ravaged the region.
"The hardships our people have faced and are currently facing are our primary consideration. Already we're examining the snow packs in the Sierra Nevada in anticipation of the spring thaw," Vucanovich said.
The measure also extends relief of up to $5 million a year among the U.S. territories of the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
It raises the authorization for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build small flood control projects from $30 million to $40 million for a fiscal year. Projects costing up to $4 million are considered small enough to be built at the corps' discretion without specific congressional authorization.
The federal-aid highway emergency relief program currently is authorized to spend $100 million a year nationwide, with a limit of $30 million for each disaster for any state.
The program derives its revenue from the federal Highway Trust Fund, which is fed by taxes on gasoline, diesel fuel and tires.
States are eligible for federal disaster aide only if the governor and president have made a declaration and the states can prove that road damage was directly caused by disaster.