07.30.15

Senate Passes Six-Year Highway Bill

Legislation would Give RIDOT Long-Term Funding Certainty to Pursue Big Projects; Includes Whitehouse Grant Funding Provision

Washington, DC – The U.S. Senate today passed the DRIVE Act, a major transportation funding bill that would provide long-term certainty for federal highway projects.  U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is a member of the committee that wrote the bill, and successfully included a new “Assistance for Major Projects Program” which would provide funding to assist states in completing large, important, and expensive projects like reconstruction of Rhode Island’s 6-10 Connector.

“Rhode Island badly needs a long-term highway bill to create jobs, grow our economy, and make our roads and bridges safer,” said Whitehouse, who has been a persistent advocate for a six year bill and an ally of the lead Democratic negotiator, Senator Barbara Boxer, as she crafted the compromise with the Republican Leader.  “This bill would provide the certainty our state needs to take on important projects like reconstruction of the 6-10 Connector while also providing steady funding for an array of bridge and road repairs.  I'm disappointed that the House is refusing to take up this bill before leaving town for August, but I'm hopeful we will be able to work with them to pass this important legislation in the fall.”

Funding for the federal Highway Trust Fund is set to expire tomorrow.  To avoid a funding shortfall, both the House and Senate are passing a three-month extension that will protect funding into October.  The House will have until then to follow the Senate's lead in enacting a longer-term bill.

The six-year Senate bill would boost the funding provided to states by more than $1.78 billion in FY 2016, a roughly 5% increase, with additional increases over the remaining five years to account for inflation.  Rhode Island, which received $211 million in FY 2014, the last full year of authorized highway funding, could expect to receive $221 million next year under this bill – a $10 million increase.  Funding for the state would also rise in future years with inflation.

The bill would also provide an additional $2.1 billion over six years for the Assistance for Major Projects Program, which would be delivered to states through competitive grants.  Rhode Island could compete for a share of this funding each year to provide additional resources for projects like the 6-10 Connector.

The bill authorizes these programs and funding levels for six years but only provides guaranteed funding for the first three years.  The remaining years would need to be paid for at a later date, but setting six years of policy is nonetheless seen as a significant step in the right direction, as Congress has passed 32 short term funding extensions over the last six years.

According to a report compiled last year by the White House, Rhode Island had the highest percentage of deficient or obsolete bridges in America and was tied for the highest percentage of roads in poor condition.  And according to the transportation research group TRIP, driving on roads in need of repair costs Rhode Island motorists $478 million a year – $637 per motorist – in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs.

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