With fanfare, Mr. Bush signed the more than 1,000-page highway bill into law at a plant operated by Caterpillar Inc., which makes road-building equipment. It was the president's second trip away from his Texas ranch this week to highlight recently passed legislation.
"If we want people working in America, we got to make sure our highways and roads are modern," Mr. Bush said. "We've got to bring up this transportation system into the 21st century."
"I mean, you can't expect your farmers to be able to get goods to market if we don't have a good road system," he said. "You can't expect to get these Caterpillar products all around the United States if we don't have a good road system."
The House and Senate voted overwhelmingly to pass the six-year highway and mass transit legislation just before heading home for a summer break. They left Washington carrying promises of new highway and bridge projects, rail and bus facilities, and bike paths and recreational trails they secured for their states and districts.
Mr. Bush had threatened to veto the bill if the final version was too fat for his liking, and it took nearly two years for Congress to reach a compromise the White House would accept.
"There were a number of members of Congress who wanted a $400 billion highway bill," Al Hubbard, director of the National Economic Council at the White House, said Tuesday in defending the president's decision to accept the bill even though it was $30 billion more than Mr. Bush recommended.
"Because of this president, it is a $286 billion highway bill," he told reporters at a briefing following a meeting with his economic team.
Keith Ashdown, vice president of policy for Taxpayers for Common Sense, called the measure a "bloated, expensive bill" that the president should veto.