By Rep. Phil Roe
This summer, I wrote a column regarding the condition of the roads and bridges in our state and the work Congress was doing to pass a long-term highway funding bill. According to the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), there are more than 19,000 bridges in our state, many that need serious rehabilitation to remain safe for use. Tennesseans rely on roads and bridges every day, especially in East Tennessee.
I am proud to say that this week, the House passed an important long-term bill to fund transportation and infrastructure projects. While this bill is imperfect, I strongly believe it’s critical we move away from short-term extensions and give state and local governments the certainty they need to plan for their infrastructure needs. Every contractor knows that when you fund projects with a piecemeal approach the cost adds up. The most efficient and economical way to fund large investment projects is to spread the cost of the investment over two or more budget years. Since the president was first elected, we have seen 35 short-term highway bill extensions, which has left state and local governments unable to strategically invest their resources. This bipartisan, six-year bill brings certainty to state and local governments while eliminating bureaucracy to allow states to invest funds from the bill where they need it most.
According to the most recent Infrastructure Report Card released by the American Society of Civil Engineers, U.S. roads were graded as a D and bridges as a C+. Given the importance of infrastructure to economic growth, passenger safety, and mobility, these grades are not good enough. The bill passed by the House this week will provide the resources and certainty necessary to move forward with a strategic plan to replace and rehabilitate the failing roads and bridges around the country.
The bill reauthorizes federal surface transportation programs through Fiscal Year 2021; streamlines the environmental review and permitting process by increasing coordination between federal, state and local governments; and creates a Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects Program to ensure projects of importance receive priority funding. This legislation also block grants the Surface Transportation Program (STP) to give state and local governments the flexibility they need to further prioritize key projects. Most importantly, the bill reiterates a commitment to safety by accelerating certain safety regulations for busses and trucks; strengthening safety for transport of hazardous materials and reauthorizing critical highway safety programs.
I’ve said time and time again that I strongly believe we need to have a long-term highway funding bill, and I thank Chairman Shuster and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for making this a priority for the committee. This bill will provide the much-needed certainty and resources needed to start the long process of repairing and replacing the failing infrastructure around this country. This bill provides federal, state and local governments with the ability to strategically plan their projects, which I believe will save taxpayer resources by encouraging government entities to plan and spend wisely. We’ve got to fund roads and bridges around the country, but we’ve also got to work smarter and do more with less. Rest assured I will continue to push for a commonsense approach to funding critical infrastructure projects.
As always, feel free to contact my office if I can be of assistance to you or your family. My contact information can be found on my website, Roe.House.gov.