Road & Bridge Bill Includes Major Infrastructure Funding Championed by Sen. Whitehouse
“Projects of National and Regional Significance” Program Could Fund Transportation Projects in Rhode Island
Washington, DC – Last night, with federal transportation funding slated to expire in September, the leading Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee introduced bipartisan legislation to reauthorize funding for road and bridge projects for the next six years. One of the major provisions included in the bill was requested by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and would fund a Projects of National and Regional Significance (PNRS) program. The Whitehouse program would provide $400 million per year to fund grants of up to $50 million for transportation projects of national or regional significance such as the I-95 Viaduct in Providence. Grants would be awarded on a competitive basis.
“This program establishes a significant source of funding to target projects, such as northbound route 95 in Providence, that are vital to our national interest,” said Whitehouse, a member of the EPW Committee who has been fighting to establish this program for years. “Through this program we will create jobs while also making our roads and bridges safer. It’s a clear win-win, and I will continue fighting to ensure that it gets passed into law.”
“We applaud Senator Whitehouse for his continued leadership in supporting investments in transportation that are critical to our nation’s economic vitality,” Governor Lincoln D. Chafee said. “In Rhode Island, given its geographic location, our infrastructure is one of the state’s most important assets; yet at current funding levels we cannot keep pace with its rate of deterioration. Programs such as PNRS have the potential to help us deliver a safe, modern transportation system for Rhode Island that keeps people and goods moving throughout the region for years to come.”
During the last Senate debate on transportation funding in 2012 Senator Whitehouse successfully pushed to include a provision to authorize funding for the PNRS program, but Congress ultimately did not appropriate funding for it. He also introduced legislation to reauthorize the funding last year.
The version of PNRS included in this year’s transportation bill would automatically set aside $400 million each year for the program, making billions of dollars available to worthy projects over the course of the six-year authorization. State transportation agencies would apply to the U.S. Department of Transportation to receive grants through PNRS for projects like the Viaduct.
The Viaduct carries I-95 for nearly a quarter mile through downtown Providence and supports over 160,000 vehicles daily. It was built in 1964 and is badly deteriorated: steel girders have cracked, and wood planks have been installed to prevent concrete from falling on cars and pedestrians that travel below. In 2012, Senator Whitehouse worked with the other members of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation to secure a $10 million federal grant to get the Viaduct project started, but additional funding will be needed to complete the northbound side of the highway.
The transportation funding bill introduced last night is scheduled to be considered by the EPW Committee this Thursday. If approved by the Committee it will then need to be passed by the full Senate.
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