Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) On Supporting The Highway Trust Fund

[In a vote of 65 to 34, the U.S. Senate Thursday afternoon approved a comprehensive six-year authorization for transportation programs and the Highway Trust Fund.  The House has not yet drafted or acted on a long-term bill.  Because the six-year bill is only partially funded, the House and Senate this week also are passing a short-term fix to replenish the Highway Trust Fund before its funding would have been depleted tomorrow at Midnight.  Leahy, who has long pushed for long-term solutions for funding infrastructure investments and the Highway Trust Fund, voted for the six-year bill, while expressing concerns about some of its provisions.  Below is Leahy’s statement about the Senate-passed bill.]

Today the Senate will approve a comprehensive, six-year authorization for our Nation’s transportation systems.  It will give our states and local communities the ability to plan for investments in the critical infrastructure that supports our cities and towns, enables inter- and intrastate commerce, and creates jobs for American workers.

This bill is far from perfect; I have strong concerns about the lack of safety measures in this bill.  The battle on whether to allow mammoth tractor trailer trucks – the equivalent of wheeled eight-story buildings – to drive alongside all the other motorists on some of our roads will come up again in the fall and so I will continue to fight to put safety first.  I am concerned that this bill will undermine the goals of the National Environmental Policy Act.  And I am concerned that, while we have before us a needed six-year authorization, this transportation bill is funded only through 2018.  I hope that as the Senate and the House conference a long-term transportation authorization bill, these concerns will be adequately addressed.

It is regrettable that some in Congress, for several years now, have done their utmost to undermine what used to be strong bipartisan support for responsible and timely reauthorizations and funding of the Highway Trust Fund and our transportation infrastructure.  The result has been a continuing era of stop-gap, short-term fixes, which hobble state and local transportation planning and which impose unending uncertainty on their vital work.  How short-sighted, and how irresponsible.  We must get back to that kind of consensus, and that kind of forward-thinking action.

A series of short-term patches do not provide states like Vermont – where the construction season is short, and the infrastructure needs are many – with the certainty they need to make needed repairs to the bridges, roads and byways that keep business moving and connect our rural towns and villages.  This legislation, however, is the result of compromise on all sides. This bill protects the MPA-21 funding formula, which will benefit Vermont and maintain a level stream of federal funding for Vermont.  I am also pleased the bill includes a 20 percent revenue provision dedicated to highway and transit growth, despite previous attempts to decrease it to six percent.  I am also gratified that, in working with the relevant committee chairs, we were able in this final bill to remove unnecessary and harmful exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act, which remains the public’s first line of defense in the right to know what their government is doing.  Nowhere is the free flow of information more important than when the safety and wellbeing of every Vermonter – of every American – is at stake.

The House of Representatives now has an opportunity.  They can kick the can down the road, beyond this year, or they can get to work, devise a meaningful, reasonable long-term transportation authorization bill.  Short term authorizations will not adequately address our Nation’s crumbling infrastructure.  After investing billions of dollars in infrastructure development overseas, it is well past time to invest right here at home, in our own people and their communities, and in our own country.  We need this certainty, and we need it now. 

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