Weekly Column

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Investing in transportation infrastructure isn’t just drawing a few more lines to a map. It means making decisions that will help parents get their children to school using safe and reliable roads. It means ensuring our commercial truck drivers can move products made in Nebraska to the rest of the country and all over the world.

Issues in our transportation system affect almost every aspect of our daily life. Like most Nebraskans, I firmly believe that it is one of the federal government’s primary duties to provide its citizens with sustainable and sufficient infrastructure. 

As the Chairman of the Senate Surface Transportation Subcommittee, my job is to lift the weight of unnecessary regulations that hurt the flow of products and people in our transportation system.

In 2015, Congress passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation, or FAST Act. It was our first long-term highway bill in more than a decade. I was proud to help shepherd this bill as it was passed through Congress and eventually signed into law. 

On July 3rd, 2018, I had the pleasure of welcoming U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to Nebraska for a second time. Together, we received an update from the Nebraska Department of Transportation Director Kyle Schneweis on construction of the Lincoln South Beltway. This project was made possible because of a $25 million award known as the TIGER grant. I fought hard and worked with state and local officials to bring this funding to Nebraska.

The Lincoln South Beltway will create a new east-west expressway located south of Lincoln in Lancaster County, where there is heavy truck traffic. This four-lane expressway will divert freight trucks away from local traffic, providing greater safety and mobility for families and ensuring the smooth movement of freight through the area. Planning for the beltway project originally began in 1960, but paused in 2008 because funding could not be secured.

Secretary Chao’s visit in Nebraska took place the day before Independence Day. At the meeting with the Secretary, we were excited to be joined by members of the Nebraska National Guard to highlight a pilot program I championed in the FAST Act that will expand job opportunities for our country’s young veterans and reservists.

Currently, commercial drivers between the ages of 18 and 21 cannot operate commercial trucks in interstate commerce, though they can operate those same vehicles within each of the 48 contiguous states. This means that a 19 year-old driver can operate a commercial motor vehicle from Scottsbluff to Omaha, but cannot cross the bridge from Omaha to Council Bluffs.

The pilot program will allow veterans, reservists, and National Guard members between the ages of 18 and 21, who are qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle based on their military experience, to drive commercial trucks across state lines. This program will provide them with the opportunity to find employment using the skills they developed while serving our country.

There is a shortage of about 51,000 truck drivers across our country. These are well-paying jobs that are vital to sustaining our economy. Who better to fill these jobs than our nation’s veterans? This is a common-sense solution that will assist our current and former service members transitioning into the workforce.

There is still much work ahead of us, but I’m proud of the achievements we’ve made recently. It’s a reassuring example that with responsible planning, we can build a more prosperous future and create better economic opportunities for those who have courageously served our country.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.