December 4, 2015
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) touted Wyoming priorities included as part of a bipartisan surface transportation bill that passed Congress Thursday. The bill provides five years of long-term funding for state and local governments to improve American roads, bridges and other transportation projects.
Barrasso was selected to be a member of the bicameral surface transportation conference committee, which was tasked with resolving differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill. He successfully included key provisions in the bill that provide regulatory relief and flexibility for rural states like Wyoming.
“Maintaining our nation’s strong commitment to the safety of our roads, bridges and infrastructure is extremely important,” said Barrasso. “After months of hard work, I’m pleased we were able to pass a bipartisan, long-term solution to our nation’s transportation challenges. Important provisions included in the bill will provide much needed flexibility for rural states like Wyoming, as well as for Indian tribes.”
Background on Barrasso Provisions included in the Bill:
Indexing Categorical Exclusion Projects
This provision allows projects with categorical exclusions to adjust the project dollar amounts for inflation. MAP-21 currently allows for categorical exclusions for projects for any highway or transit project that receive less than $5 million in Federal funds. Unless those amounts are adjusted for inflation, the value of the categorical exclusion will degrade over time.
Critical Rural Freight Corridor Designation Flexibility
This provision provides the states with more flexibility to designate rural routes as critical rural freight corridors. This would include designating routes to agricultural and forestry facilities or energy development that connect to primary freight networks or interstate highways.
Rural Road Waivers
This provision provides the Secretary of Transportation with new authorities to provide exceptions and exemptions that provide regulatory relief and flexibility for rural road and rural bridge projects. This will help cut red tape and expedite project delivery.
Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Funding
This provision will force the federal government to fully return past and future AML payments owed to Wyoming. Under the agreement championed for years by U.S. Senators Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, and U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis, Wyoming is now eligible to receive approximately $241.9 million immediately, and approximately $350 million in future years.
Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) Program
This provision reinstates flexibility for states that have at least one nonattainment area to use CMAQ funding for rural transit operations or street sweeping equipment to limit particulate pollution in attainment areas.
Provides language in the bill to ensure that Wyoming “rural” projects would qualify for lower interest rates and require a lower project dollar amount in order to be eligible under the program.
Rural Road Data Collection Flexibility
Provides language in the bill that would provide an exemption from a MAP-21 requirement that State DOTs collect that same amount of data on a gravel road as a major intersection in Cheyenne.
Tribal Administrative Expenses
Decreases administrative expenses paid by the Tribes to the Bureau of Indian Affairs from 6 percent to 5 percent of the total amount of the project. This provision will put more money into tribal projects instead of bureaucratic expenses.
Tribal Transportation Program (TTP)
TTP will receive an immediate increase of $15 million for fiscal year 2016 and $10 million every year thereafter, culminating in $505 million for tribes in fiscal year 2020. Compared with current law, this would be an increase of $55 million by 2020 for tribal communities.
The increases in the act mirror S. 1776, the Tribal Infrastructure and Roads Enhancement and Safety Act (TIRES Act), a bill sponsored by Barrasso who is Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. The TIRES Act is a bill to improve the safety of roads in Indian Country. The TIRES Act passed the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs unanimously on July 22, 2015. On April 22, 2015, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held an oversight hearing on the issue titled: “Tribal Transportation: Pathways to Safer Roads in Indian Country.” Two Wyoming witnesses testified on the need to improve roads on tribal lands, including Mr. John Smith, Director of the Transportation Department for the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes of the Wind River Indian Reservation and Mr. Delbert McOmie, Chief Engineer with the Wyoming Department of Transportation.
Tribal Road Data Collection and Road Safety Studies
H.R. 22 also includes other items that were part of the TIRES Act, including a study at the U.S. Department of Transportation to examine the quality of transportation safety data collected that can benefit tribes in preventing crashes and seeking reimbursement from those that damage tribal roads; and a study at the U.S. Department of the Interior to examine ways to improve safety on public roads on Indian reservations.