Jul 30 2015

Fischer Votes for Long-Term Highway Funding

DRIVE Act Passes Senate, Bill Authorizes Multi-Year Funding for Important Transportation Projects

WASHINGTON – This afternoon, the U.S. Senate passed The DRIVE Act, legislation that would authorize surface transportation projects over the next six years. U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), who chairs the Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and cosponsored the bill, released the following statement this afternoon:

“Through bipartisan cooperation, the Senate has advanced a bill that authorizes funding for important transportation projects for six years. I have strongly advocated for a long-term highway bill since my first year in office.

“By working closely with key transportation stakeholders in Nebraska, we were able to reduce burdensome regulations, keep goods moving, and improve support for rural communities. This is a crucial first step toward providing greater certainty and economic relief to our states, businesses, families, and the travelling public.”

Following the passage of the DRIVE Act, the Senate will consider a 3-month authorization for funding transportation projects. This will allow more time for the House and Senate to work out differences in the bill this fall.

Fischer Provisions

Senator Fischer announced several key provisions she fought to include in the legislation, which 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. 1102: Improves the Programmatic Agreement process for categorical exclusions (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. This section allows states, in addition to the federal government, to determine which state or federal agencies (e.g. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Historical Society, etc.) must be consulted prior to beginning an infrastructure project.

2. Sec. 1111: Provides technical assistance to states that want to assume responsibility for reviews of 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 would help states provide their own certification regarding the appropriate level of environmental review for certain projects, rather than wasting time waiting for the federal government to provide the assessments

3. Subtitle C: Trucking Rules Updated By Comprehensive and Key (TRUCK) Safety Reforms Act. The DRIVE Act includes important provisions authored by Senator Fischer to provide a regulatory review of current rules at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the agency with authority over commercial vehicle safety. Fischer’s bill would also strengthen the regulatory cost-benefit analysis and encourage more public participation in the regulatory process to enhance safety on our nation’s roads.

4. Section 32403. Commercial Driver Act. The bill includes important provisions related to Senator Fischer’s Commercial Driver Act. These provisions would allow the Department of Transportation the option to establish a pilot program to allow states to enter into optional interstate compacts to encourage new, professional commercial drivers to join the workforce.

Other Key Provisions

· Regulatory Relief for Nebraska’s Agricultural Producers: Exempts agricultural retailers, business employees, and producers from obtaining a hazardous materials driver’s license to transport 1,000 gallons or less of diesel fuel if the container is clearly marked with “Diesel Fuel.” 

· Hair Testing: The bill allows trucking companies to use hair sample testing for drivers. This is considered a more reliable and sanitary option for drug testing employees.

· Flexibility for Rural Areas: Grants the Transportation Secretary new authority to provide much-needed regulatory relief and flexibility for rural road and bridge projects. It also accelerates the project delivery process, and seeks to eliminate duplicative environmental reviews.

· Project Bundling: Allows similar projects to bundle together 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, which 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.

Click here to view the text of The DRIVE Act.

Click here to view a summary of the bill, courtesy of the EPW Committee.

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