Feb 08 2017

Fischer Highlights New Infrastructure Bill

Modeled on NE Law, Fischer’s “Build USA Infrastructure Act” Offers Solutions to Fund and Build New Projects

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the chairman of the Surface Transportation Subcommittee, today participated in a hearing on congressional oversight for modernizing our nation’s infrastructure system. During the hearing, Fischer highlighted legislation she introduced last week that would strengthen and fund infrastructure projects across the country.

Senator Fischer’s Build USA Infrastructure Act is a new initiative to fund critical transportation infrastructure projects. This legislation would help address the near-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) and allow states to exchange a portion of their federal highway dollars for greater control over certain aspects of federal regulatory approval for highway projects.

This bill is modeled after Senator Fischer’s legislative success in developing innovative, sustainable transportation funding solutions in the Nebraska Unicameral.

Below are excerpts of Senator Fischer’s exchange with Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Wyoming Department of Transportation, William T. Panos, and the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Transportation, Shailen Bhatt:

Sen. Deb Fischer

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Like many of my colleagues, I believe in the importance of funding our surface transportation infrastructure. Reliable infrastructure does represent a critical investment in advancing our safety and commerce. The highway trust fund has served to equitably distribute funds to all states; rural and urban, and is the lynchpin of our transportation system.

As many here are aware, the congressional budget office projects that the Highway Trust Fund will face a deficit of well over $100 billion dollars in the five years following the FAST Act expiration.

That’s why I introduced the Build USA Infrastructure Act, which would address the near-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund without raising taxes on hard-working Americans. I would like to ask our state DOT directors, Mr. Panos and Mr. Bhatt, how important is certainty in the formula funding to your states’ transportation systems, and when it comes to maintaining our roads and bridges is there really any substitute for this critical portion funding?

Mr. Bhatt

…one of the best parts about the FAST Act was getting us out of that cycle of continuing resolutions around funding, if we have certainty around funding then we can make better plans, and it costs states and all tax payers less money when we have certainty.

Mr. William T. Panos

…So, I think that the proposal that you’re talking about identifies a couple of things: one it identifies that the Highway Trust Fund is not going to be a consistent source of funding after 2020 and that’s critically important to us because we’re not expanding we’re just preserving what we have there. The investment has already been made by the federal government. The second is that it really looks at the process, the regulatory review of the projects and looks at how time consuming that is and the need to improve that. So, we support both of those things; those are things that I think that not only Wyoming but other rural states would agree with. So it’s good that you stepped up and put some of those ideas front and center for us to look at. How we go about that, we will work with Congress over the next few months to development but I think they’re solid ideas…

Sen. Deb Fischer

Thank you for your compliment of the proposal.  I think it’s really important to identify a consistent revenue source without raising taxes at the federal level to be able to fund beyond maintenance because we all need to make sure we have that capacity in the future as well. You mentioned a second part of my proposal, that really addresses the critical delays that projects are faced when they have to wait for that federal government approval.

I can tell you that my state has spent time and money on those burdensome federal highway administration processes that really don’t change any outcomes moving forward. For example, we’re looking at upgrading a substandard Dodge-street S-curve project in Omaha. And that has seen costs grow by $3 million because of these burdens that are out there.  Again, this idea that’s in the Build USA Infrastructure Act, it’s based on a proposal that I was able to get advanced in the state of Nebraska that’s proved successful, and hopefully, we will be able to have a conversation on that here.

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