President Clinton likely now will not veto - as he once threatened - a massive highway bill that is essential to Olympics-related projects such as light-rail and I-15 reconstruction.

Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater delivered that message Tuesday to a roundtable of reporters from regional newspapers, including the Deseret News.Clinton threatened to veto the bill last week if major changes were not made, which prompted criticism by Rep. Merrill Cook and Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, who both said that could greatly delay or kill Olympics-related projects.

But Slater said so much progress has been made on the bill since then that he doubts a veto will now occur.

But he didn't totally erase the threat either, saying Clinton would have to look at a final bill before that decision is made.

"We say today that things are moving in the right direction, but you never know until you get that bill and you're looking at the fine print and you're making that final judgment," Slater said.

He said among the progress that the administration wanted was that the overall cost of the bill "came down from $218 billion or $219 billion to basically $205 billion" or maybe even $200 billion.

House and Senate leaders are still negotiating final points of the bill, but they hope to finish and have both houses pass it this week, before they start a weeklong Memorial Day recess.

Slater said the drop in costs helped ensure the budget can still be balanced on schedule without cutting into other administration priorities such as education.

He said changes also helped ensure the government would not spend any budget surplus on transportation, which the administration wants earmarked first to help sustain Social Security.

Slater said the administration is also pleased that the bill makes a balanced effort to help highways and mass transit, fairly ensures states will receive back a reasonable share of highway taxes they pay, makes a record investment in transportation and holds down pork- barrel spending on special projects.

The offices of Utah's members of Congress said that while final negotiations proceed on the bill, its exact and final impact on Utah projects is still unclear.

The earlier House version of the bill would have given Utah $227.5 million in federal road funds annually for six years, and a Senate version would have given it about $10 million less. But both are vast increases over the $130 million a year it receives now.

It would also raise caps on federal spending that the state is now bumping into for the reconstruction of I-15 and construction of the TRAX light-rail system in Salt Lake County.

The House version also had more than $65 million worth of additional earmarked projects for Utah that it would have funded on top of normal authorizations, which were among what the White House said was "unnecessary pork."

Among them were such things as $12 million to widen 12300/12600 South in Salt Lake County from 700 East to the Bangerter Highway, $11.5 million to extend Main Street in Murray from Vine Street to 5600 South and $7 million to reconstruct part of U.S. 89 in Kaysville.