Senate passes transportation bill
U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) on Friday joined colleagues in approving a compromise two-year transportation package that includes more than $2 billion in federal transportation support for highway and transit projects in Virginia.
The broadly bipartisan Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) passed the Senate by a vote of 74-19 and reflects Sen. Warner’s successful efforts to promote transit safety and encourage more transit-friendly development. The bill is fully funded, will not add to the deficit, and maintains the solvency of the highway trust fund through fiscal year 2014.
With over 50% of U.S. roads in disrepair and over 70,000 structurally deficient bridges nationwide, this bill provides $120 billion over more than two years for much-needed investments in our failing infrastructure. Virginia will receive roughly $1.1 billion each of the next two years, representing a slight increase over previous years. The legislation provides certainty and continued funding for projects that have had to rely on nine consecutive short-term funding extensions since 2009. It delivers vital federal funding to allow VDOT to move forward on projects across the state such as I-581 interchange improvements in Roanoke, bridge and tunnel improvements in Hampton Roads, major rehabilitation work at the I-64/95 interchange in Richmond, and the Telegraph Road and I-495 interchange in Northern Virginia.
“I am proud both parties and both chambers of Congress could come together to pass this legislation. This transportation legislation contains important reforms to accelerate project delivery while also giving states, localities and roadbuilders the predictability they need to hire and plan for the future,” Sen. Warner said. “Make no mistake: we still have a lot of work to do. America’s transportation infrastructure used to be the envy of the world. Not anymore.”
Several of Sen. Warner’s specific priorities were included in the final language:
- MAP-21 will, for the first time, establish federal safety standards for transit systems nationwide. Provisions in the bill draw on legislation that Sen. Warner introduced earlier this Congress with Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jim Webb (D-VA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) in response to the fatal 2009 Washington Metro accident. “This legislation will begin to address the troubling gaps in transit safety standards, oversight and enforcement highlighted by the deadly June 2009 Metro train collision,” Sen. Warner said.
- The surface transportation bill includes motorcoach safety legislation that Warner cosponsored along with Sens.Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), John Rockefeller (D-WV), Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Jim Webb (D-VA). These provisions will require common sense safety improvements, like seat belts and protection against fires, as well as additional safety training and registration requirements. “This legislation will place more focus on safety, and will make it harder for rogue, unsafe companies to operate,” Sen. Warner said.
- The legislation also authorizes $10 million for planning grants to allow localities to develop growth plans focused on transit-oriented development based on legislation recently introduced by Sens. Warner and Michael Bennet (D-CO). “With big projects like Rail to Dulles going in and localities across Virginia looking for smarter and more rational ways to manage growth, these planning grants should help us plan better over the long-term and better serve our commuters, residents and businesses,” Sen. Warner said
- Sen. Warner praised the House-Senate conference committee for removing language that could have placed restrictions on public-private partnerships. “Virginia has always been a leader in using new and innovative funding mechanisms to make much-needed transportation investments, and expanding TIFIA will do nothing but help us,” Sen. Warner said. “I am also proud to have fought successfully for the removal of provisions in previous versions of this legislation that would have placed burdensome restrictions on public-private partnerships, jeopardizing good projects like the I-95 HOT lanes.”
The legislation also includes a compromise to allow student loan interest rates for federally subsidized Stafford loans to remain at 3.4 %, preventing a doubling of interest rates scheduled to take effect on July 1st. It also includes a five-year renewal of the national flood insurance program scheduled to expire on July 31st.