New transportation bill cuts red tape
September 6, 2012
NEW ALBANY -- The new two-year federal transportation bill will speed up road projects and possibly bring more federal funds to Licking County.
That's the view of U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Township, who sat on the conference committee which crafted the legislation that takes effect Oct. 1, ending three years of temporary extensions.
The new law, called Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), provides more funding stability, reduces red tape and gives states more flexibility, Tiberi said.
"Ultimately, we got the best deal we could have gotten in a divided Congress," Tiberi said. "We finally got something done."
The representative of Ohio's 12th Congressional District spoke about the challenges of reaching the agreement, during a transportation discussion Wednesday at Anomatic Corporation in the New Albany Personal Care and Beauty Campus.
Janet Kavinoky, executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Transportation and Infrastructure, Congressional and Public Affairs Division, attended the New Albany event, and said the new bill will help businesses.
"We got some significant improvements on how highway projects are delivered," Kavinoky said. "For some projects, that are simple or smaller, you still have to be environmentally responsible, but we're going to cut red tape that could take five to six years."
Steve Cohen, who recently spoke at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., told Tiberi the frequent highway bill extensions have not been good for business.
"It's been a nightmare for an industry such as ours," Cohen said. "Why can't we get a five-year highway bill like we have in the past?"
The representative said the process of writing a new bill should begin immediately, so when the new bill expires in 2014, a replacement is ready. Still, Tiberi said, reaching the new deal, was far from easy.
Tiberi said Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., sought to prevent the reforms Republicans sought, but relented at the last minute after Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, threatened to support another short-term extension.
"It was one of the most bizarre conferences I've ever sat through," Tiberi said. "Boxer told the press, 'Everything is going great, we're negotiating, there's give and take and we're getting close.'
"Privately, she said take our bill. It's a bipartisan bill. Just take our bill. She said no to everything."
The late compromise in mid-June resulted in a new bill signed by the president in July and scheduled to take effect when the new federal fiscal year begins in October.
The Senate version of the bill would have eliminated some smaller metropolitan planning organizations, possibly including the Licking County Area Transportation Study.
"They were on the bubble," Tiberi said of the bill's earlier language.
The new bill designates freight corridors, where transportation projects receive federal funds for 90 percent of the cost, up from the current 80 percent.
Tiberi said Interstate 70, and possibly Ohio 161, both through Licking County, could be labeled freight corridors. Roads connecting with a freight corridor also receive federal funds covering 85 percent of project costs.
Sandra Mapel, director of LCATS, the local metropolitan planning organization, said it was good news to have a transportation bill for the first time since the 2005 bill expired in 2009.
"Before we were just living on extensions and it's hard to plan when you know funding is only available for three months or six months," Mapel said.
"Having two years of stable funding is a good thing, but the real hard questions haven't been addressed yet."
Mapel said the new bill is much appreciated, but long-term funding solutions for the nation's road network have not been found.
"There's a need to shift how federal transportation is funded and that's a very difficult discussion to have," Mapel said.
Kavinoky said increasing revenue from the gas tax would be preferable to living only on current gas tax proceeds or spending more than the funds coming in.
Tiberi said he opposes any increase in the gas tax, preferring to set aside a percentage of funds from increased energy production.