U.S. Senator Tom Udall voted yesterday as a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to approve a major transportation bill, which funds 70 percent of New Mexico highways and bridges and provides almost half of the total transportation dollars spent in the state.
The hearing was a critical step toward reauthorization of Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), which renews transportation policy and funding for another six years. With the Highway Trust Fund expected to run out this summer, action on the bill is crucial, Udall said. Other provisions in MAP-21 now must be approved by the Senate Commerce, Banking and Finance committees before the bill can go to the full Senate for debate.
“Improving our infrastructure is one of the best things we can do to create jobs and to invest in our long-term economic strength,” Udall said. “This is a bill that matters to every New Mexican. Everyone has a stake. It has the potential to create thousands of jobs and make badly needed updates and repairs to roads in communities across the state. New Mexico cannot afford an interruption in federal transportation funding when our economy is struggling, and I will keep making this case until our work is done.”
Udall worked with the committee to secure provisions important for New Mexico. For example, the bill will give local communities a stronger say in how the state prioritizes projects paid for with federal highway dollars. This will especially help small, rural communities advocate for individual transportation needs and repairs.
One key amendment Udall fought to include would allow the use of federal funds to maintain roads heavily used by Border Patrol. N.M. border counties have expressed frustration at being required to pay to maintain extremely rural roads that are primarily used for border protection, a national interest.
Udall also fought for additional funding for National Park roads, which are used by millions of visitors each year. The funding will help address the more than $400 million infrastructure backlog for New Mexico’s National Parks, which will help support the state’s tourism economy.
Some additional highlights of the bill include:
Focus on Freight and Goods Movement – helps states fund improvements to key freight corridors.
Sets Aside Funding for Significant Rural Projects – creates a new grant program for key transportation, with a portion of the funding specifically set aside for rural areas.
Improves TIFIA Program – provides state and local governments new options for financing transportation infrastructure projects, allowing states to get the most out of their transportation dollars.
Flexibility for Rural Projects – allows states to bundle together small projects in rural areas in order to take advantage of U.S. DOT programs that are often difficult to utilize for rural projects.
Funds Tribal Transportation Programs – maintains current funding levels for programs to maintain and build roads and bridges on tribal and federal lands.
Safe Routes to Schools – expands funding for Safe Routes to School projects which use federal money to improve safety for children walking and biking to school.
Unpaved Road Studies – allows states to use federal funds to track traffic on unpaved roads, information that can help local officials make inform decisions on where to direct resources.
Improved Safety Data – requires states to collect the data on the number of serious injuries and fatalities for both motorized and non-motorized users (i.e. pedestrians and cyclist) for state safety plans.
Greater Spending Transparency – improves transparency for spending of Highway Trust Fund dollars by requiring an online database of spending on federal-aid projects.