Congress finally passes transportation bill with disaster funding

first_imgIn a decisive vote of 70 to 30, the US Senate Thursday night gave final approval to a transportation budget bill that includes provisions added by Senator Patrick Leahy (D) to replenish the federal government’s depleted transportation emergency fund, along with the crucial cost waivers he authored that will mean tens of millions of additional dollars for road and bridge repair aid that will speed Vermont’s recovery from Tropical Storm Irene. The Senate’s vote came three hours after House approval of the bill Thursday afternoon in a vote of 298 to 121. Leahy said the President will promptly sign the bill into law. Leahy said, ‘We want to get Irene way, way behind us, and this bill will bring that day closer.  We face many challenges after Irene, but the damage to our roads, bridges and rail lines is the biggest challenge.  Repairing our transportation network is the key to restoring Vermont.  We need these emergency funds and these cost waivers because our small state would be stretched too thin to do all of this alone.’ Leahy continued, ‘Back in September some thought this day would never come.  The feeling was that a Congress that’s stuck in the slow gear with the brakes on couldn’t or wouldn’t get it done.  But this bill has been Job One for Vermont ever since Irene, and we wouldn’t take any answer but yes.  On the Appropriations Committee I pressed the importance of this funding and these Vermont waivers.  We got it passed and kept the ball rolling steadily forward.’ On his provisions to shift heavy trucks from state roads to Vermont’s interstate highways, Leahy said, ‘This is a sensible change that offers great relief to towns, citizens and businesses throughout Vermont.  Many are still struggling with the heavy storm damage to our state and local roads.’ Facing stiff odds and severe needs in Vermont in Irene’s aftermath, Leahy added key transportation emergency funding waivers for Vermont in September to the bill in the Senate Appropriations Committee and then worked to secure Senate passage.  The counterpart House bill did not include the Leahy waivers, so Congressman Peter Welch (D) pressed House leaders to accept the Senate-passed provisions, and Leahy similarly worked with Senate conferees.  Senator Bernie Sanders (I) also supports the Leahy waivers, and Governor Peter Shumlin has said they are indispensable to Vermont’s recovery.  Leahy is number two on the Senate Appropriations Committee and also a senior member of its transportation subcommittee.‘Irene will go down in history as one of the worst natural disasters ever to hit our state,’ said Sanders. ‘There is no doubt that Vermonters will pick up the pieces and restore our homes, businesses and communities, but the simple fact is that we cannot do this alone. Vermont, like every other state that experiences a disaster, is entitled to federal help to rebuild our communities.  I am glad that in a significant way we were able to accomplish that with this bill.’Below is a summary of the Leahy provisions in the final bill ‘Add $1.662 billion to the depleted Federal Highway Administration emergency fund, upon which Vermont will depend for help in repairing and rebuilding roads washed away or damaged by Irene-related flooding.  The emergency highway account today is almost empty.  Also vital to Vermont are several cost-waiver provisions Leahy added to the bill, which would save Vermont millions of state tax dollars by allowing Vermont to:o    Be reimbursed for more than the current $100 million per-state limit on federal emergency highway repair funds, which is especially critical as Vermont’s repair costs are expected to exceed the current cap;o    Be reimbursed 100 percent for emergency repairs beyond the current limit of 180 days.The bill also includes another high priority for Vermont: Leahy’s legislation to move heavy trucks off state secondary roads and onto the state’s Interstate highways for the next 20 years.  Leahy’s Vermont provision is paired with a similar change for Maine, authored by Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine). (WASHINGTON, DC, NOV. 17, 2011)last_img

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