May 15 2014
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, announced today that the committee has voted, with her support, to advance the MAP-21 Reauthorization Act (S. 2322), long-term (six year), bipartisan legislation to improve the nation’s federal highway system. The bill approved by the committee maintains the structure of main highway programs, authorizes long-term funding, and gives state and local governments the certainty and flexibility they need to improve and develop our nation’s transportation infrastructure.
Text of the legislation is available online HERE.
Senator Fischer announced two key provisions she fought to include in the legislation to enhance project flexibility for states and streamline the environmental review process. These provisions were drafted in consultation with key transportation stakeholders in Nebraska, including officials from the Nebraska Department of Roads.
1. Sec. 1308: Provides technical assistance to states that want to assume responsibility for reviews of categorical exclusions, or CEs. Categorical exclusions are a category of projects that do not have a significant impact on the environment, triggering a less arduous level of environmental review. Fischer’s provision allows states to provide their own certification regarding the appropriate level of environmental review of certain projects, rather than wasting time waiting for the federal government to provide the assessments.
2. Sec. 1302: Improves the Programmatic Agreement process for CEs to allow states to determine whether consultation with a relevant resource agency is necessary. Fischer’s provision establishes procedures – based on a template developed by the Transportation Secretary – allowing states, in addition to the federal government, to determine which state or federal agencies (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Historical Society, etc.) must be consulted prior to beginning an infrastructure project.
Text of the amendments is available online HERE.
Fischer released the following statement:
“I was pleased to work closely with Chairman Boxer and Ranking Member Vitter on the six-year highway bill approved today by the EPW Committee. This bill contains key provisions I worked to include, which will provide more flexibility for states to expedite road projects. The result will be lower costs, less red tape, and more common sense. Roads are the lifeblood of Nebraska, connecting busy cities with sprawling rural communities. A modern infrastructure is key to economic growth, and a first class transportation system helps attract businesses and ensures public safety. I look forward to working with my colleagues on solutions to fund needed infrastructure improvements as the bill advances.”
Other Key Provisions:
- Regulatory Relief for Rural Areas: Grants the Transportation Secretary new authority to provide much-needed regulatory relief and flexibility for rural road and rural bridge projects. It also accelerates the project delivery process and seeks to eliminate duplicative environmental reviews.
- More Accountability and Transparency: Requires the Transportation Secretary to publicly post on a website all funding data for highway projects. This data will include the time and costs associated with federal environmental regulations so Congress can better provide oversight.
- No Tolling: Omits expansion of Interstate tolling. While tolling raises revenue, it is only for the bridges or highways tolled, not for broader infrastructure needs. Senator Fischer recently expressed her concerns with increased tolling at a hearing to Transportation Secretary Foxx.
- Project Bundling: Allows projects to bundle together with other similar projects to streamline the approval process. Bundling would also allow smaller projects to have the same access to funds and financing normally dedicated to larger projects.
- National Freight Program: Establishes the National Freight Program that provides flexibility for states to spend federal funds on critical rural and urban corridors, in coordination with state transportation plans.
- Rural Corridors: Allows states to designate rural roads as critical freight corridors, especially if they provide access to grain elevators or “other regionally significant agricultural facilities.” The program also helps states target projects that increase the efficiency, reliability, and affordability of freight transportation.
NOTE: The bill does not include actual funding, which is left to the Senate Finance Committee to determine. Chairman Ron Wyden is weighing several options, including a short-term patch.