WASHINGTON, D.C.–The roads and bridges you drive on are not in great shape, but a six-year transportation bill passed in DC Thursday may mean the money to help fix them will be there. The Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act, passed 65-34, with both Mississippi senators voting in favor.
The bill still has to pass the U.S. House to become law.
Twenty one percent of the bridges in Mississippi are considered structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
“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 Sen. Thad Cochran (R), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Cochran said the bill, being a six-year plan, is a step up from the temporary patches and fixes that have funded highways since 2009.
The Highway Trust Fund is set to run out of money on July 31. A three-month funding extension was approved by Congress Thursday to ensure the fund will continue to operate, allowing the House of Representatives time to take action on the long-term highway plan.
“For years, Washington has failed to provide certainty to states and communities with regard to a long-term infrastructure plan,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R). “That inaction has taken its toll on the nation’s highways. In Mississippi, for example, nearly a quarter of our roads are in ‘poor condition.’ The bill that passed the Senate today is not perfect, but it would help clear the backlog of many stalled bridge and highway projects necessary for economic growth and commerce.”
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.
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.
An amendment authored by Wicker in the bill would allow local governments and metropolitan planning organizations to receive grants under the Technology and Innovation Deployment Program.
An additional part, authored by Wicker, would require the National Automotive Sampling System to collect car crash data when a child restraint system was in use during the crash. It would allow the American Academy of Pediatrics and local law enforcement to collect this data to help determine if any injuries or fatalities occur when the children are in a 5-point harness recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.