WASHINGTON — Facing a weekend deadline, Congress on Friday approved an extension of highway and transit aid that is expected to provide about $1 billion for road and bridge work in Arkansas over two years.

WASHINGTON — Facing a weekend deadline, Congress on Friday approved an extension of highway and transit aid that is expected to provide about $1 billion for road and bridge work in Arkansas over two years.

The federal government’s authority to levy federal fuel taxes would have expired Saturday without congressional action without the reauthorization.

Rather than pass another short-term extension, House and Senate conferees were able to reach an agreement on a two-year authorization.

U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, who served on the conference committee, said he would have preferred a longer-term deal but was satisfied with the outcome.

“The highway bill we finalized today provides certainty that the states and contractors are looking for,” Crawford said. “It was bicameral and bipartisan and will probably be viewed as the biggest jobs bill passed by this Congress.”

U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., said the bill means about 27,000 jobs for Arkansans working on roads and bridges.

“It’s a good investment in the future,” he said.

The highway reauthorization was contained in a larger package that overhauls the federal flood insurance program and keeps interest rates on new federal student loans at 3.4 percent for another year. The rates would otherwise have doubled starting Sunday.

The House approved the bill, 373-52, and the Senate passed it, 74-19. The entire Arkansas delegation supported it.

“This transportation extension will allow us to construct new roads and highways and make much-needed improvements and repairs to our current infrastructure,” said Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott.

Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, said he voted for the conference bill even though it removed a provision that he supported to approve the Keystone XL pipeline to transport shale oil from Canada to refineries in Texas.

“This bill is fully paid for, reduces the deficit and will help lay the groundwork necessary for economic growth by repairing our crumbling infrastructure and streamlining the project approval process,” Griffin said.

Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said Congress had failed to address acute funding challenges facing the nation’s transportation program.

“Congress relies on a transfer of nearly $19 billion from the Treasury to pay for increased transportation spending, on the heels of $34.5 billion in transfers since 2008. Stealing from Peter to pay Paul is irresponsibility at its very worst, especially when Peter – the Treasury – is already broke,” she said.

The highway bill also contained several safety initiatives that Pryor and Crawford had promoted on commercial trucking and “distracted driving.”

A “Safe Roads” initiative in the bill would establish a national clearinghouse of truck drivers who tested positive for drugs or alcohol. The bill also requires commercial trucks to be equipped with electronic on-board recorders.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration believes that use of electronic recorders would cut down on violations of hours of service and reduce fatigue-related accidents.

“The Arkansas Trucking Association deserves a lot of credit. They took the national lead on this,” Pryor said.

The bill would also establish a new grant program that states could use to enact and enforce laws limiting distracted driving.

Pryor last year introduced “Mariah’s Law” to improve driver safety. It was named after Mariah West of Rogers, Ark., who died from injuries sustained in an automobile accident in 2009.

Mariah was texting while driving, Pryor said.

Pryor said that preventing distracted driving could spare other families the tragedy of losing a loved one.