The Senate defeated a bid by Sen. John McCain on Wednesday to stop funneling federal funds to transportation museums, highway beautification and preservation of historic bridges, rejecting his argument that money needed to repair rundown roads was being diverted to projects like squirrel sanctuaries and car museums.
Senators turned aside the Arizona Republican's measure by 59-39 after opponents said it would block Amtrak's use of many historic rail stations and the preservation of icons like New York's Brooklyn Bridge and New England's covered bridges.
McCain's provision was aimed at the transportation enhancement program, which last year sent the states over $900 million. His proposal would have allowed states to continue using money from the program for bike and pedestrian paths, building tunnels under roads and other structures to separate traffic from wildlife, and acquiring historic sites.
McCain said recipients of money under the program have included the White Squirrel Sanctuary in Kenton, Tenn., the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky., and historic items along a Pennsylvania highway that include a giant coffee pot.
"I'm a coffee drinker, and so I think a coffee pot is pretty nice," McCain said. But he added, "The fact is we have deficient bridges. We have highways that need repairs."
Rep. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said McCain's amendment went too far. She said that Amtrak operates more than 126 stations in 41 states that are registered as historic places and that the railroad would be unable to upgrade or use under McCain's measure.
"That would cripple Amtrak," she said.
McCain offered his provision to a wide-ranging $128 billion bill financing the Transportation Department and other agencies for the federal budget year that began on Oct. 1.