Senator Says Long-Term Bill Cuts Federal Red Tape, Offers Mississippi More Certainty for Highways, Bridge Safety

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) today voted for a new six-year surface transportation bill that would direct more resources for transportation improvements in Mississippi while easing federal regulatory burdens.

Cochran on Thursday voted for Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act, the longest multi-year highway and transportation bill approved by the Senate since 2005. The bipartisan Senate bill, approved 65-34, offers state and local governments a stable environment for planning for their transportation needs beyond short-term, stopgap measures enacted by Congress since 2009 when the last long-term bill expired.

“This multi-year transportation bill is an important step toward giving Mississippi and all states certainty and resources to be aggressive in fixing highways, bridges and other infrastructure. Our economic competiveness relies on improving the effectiveness and safety of America’s infrastructure,” said Cochran, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“With this legislation, we move away from six years of temporary stopgaps that have done little to improve the efficiency or safety of our roads and bridges,” he said. “I look forward to both houses of Congress working toward a final bill in the coming months.”

The DRIVE Act would reauthorize the federal aid highway program through 2022 with a formula-based program schedule that is expected to increase annual payments to states. The bill also establishes a formula-based program that would allow states to designate key freight corridors to improve the movement of goods beyond the primary highway freight system. The measure includes guaranteed funding for the next three years-funding that is fully offset without raising taxes or increasing the deficit.

Bridge reconstruction and safety, a key issue for Mississippi, is strongly emphasized in the legislation by increasing funding specifically designed to shore up deficient bridges. According to the Federal Highway Administration, approximately 21 percent of bridges in Mississippi are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

Additionally, the measure strengthens policies to make the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process for infrastructure projects more efficient and less burdensome on states. NEPA compliance requirements currently cause significant delay and added costs to project costs.

The bill includes provisions from Transportation Alternatives Program Improvement Act, introduced by Cochran and U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), to improve the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP). Under TAP, local communities can apply for funds for a variety of local transportation needs, including bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, Safe Routes to School initiatives, community improvement activities, recreational trails and more. These funds help communities improve safety for their residents, create transportation options and become more economically competitive.

Cochran also commended U.S. Senator Roger Wicker for the inclusion of his Railroad Reform Enhancement and Efficiency Act into the bill. This bipartisan measure would improve railroad safety, technology and infrastructure.

In addition to passing the long-term reauthorization, the Senate on Thursday also approved a three-month extension of the current law in order to give the House of Representatives more time to approve its own long-term surface transportation legislation. This new extension is the 34th short-term reauthorization passed by Congress since 2009.