Murkowski Votes for Long-Term Highway Bill
Five Year Funding Program Provides Certainty for Alaska Projects
Today U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski voted on the final version of the transportation funding agreement, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which passed by a vote of 83-16. The legislation provides funding for our nation’s surface transportation needs over the next five years, from highways to ferries and railroads.
Senator Murkowski was a member of the surface transportation conference committee to negotiate the differences between both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate versions of the bill. Through this leadership position, Murkowski was able to give Alaska’s interests and priorities a voice at the negotiating table, and help retain provisions secured by Senator Dan Sullivan (as a member of both the Environment and Public Works Committee and Commerce Committee) and Congressman Don Young (as a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee).
The FAST Act provides annual increases in funding to the state over a five year period. Alaska stands to receive more than $2.6 billion from Fiscal Years (FY) 2016-2020.
“Alaska has unique transportation needs and challenges—whether it be due to our state’s vast size, remoteness, difficult terrain, or harsh climate. Because of this, it’s imperative that we have the certainty that comes with a long-term transportation funding bill,” said Murkowski. “We all recognize that Alaska is in the midst of budget crisis, so being able to rely on federal funding for critical infrastructure projects, whether it be on roads, bridges, or ferries, is key to our state. I’m proud that with the FAST Act, we have a five year bill with stable funding—the longest time period for transportation funding that Congress has secured in seventeen years.”
Alaska-specific provisions included in the five year transportation bill include:
Alaska Railroad: The bill fixes a technical mistake from MAP-21, the previous transportation bill, which shortchanged funding to the Alaska Railroad. Congressman Don Young included that provision in the House version of the bill, and Senator Murkowski was able to secure it in the final version during the conference process.
Federal Freight Program: The legislation creates a new federal Freight Program, and Alaska will receive $80 million in funding over the five year period.
Tribal Transportation Program: Funding for the Tribal Transportation program increases by $15 million in the first year, growing by $10 million each year thereafter. The bill also decreases administrative expenses and establishes a tribal transportation self-governance program at the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Ferry Program Funding: The bill increases funding for the ferry system from $67 million to $80 million a year, which translates into $18.6 million for ferries in Alaska. This is an increase from $18.2 million provided in MAP-21 and will be an increase of $2.4 million over the five year period FY 2016-2020.
Tongass Easements: Language within this bill clarifies a provision in the SAFETEA-LU transportation bill to ensure that reciprocal easements and rights-of-way in the Tongass National Forest will be granted between the state of Alaska and the U.S. Forest Service. This will benefit road and other infrastructure projects in Southeast Alaska.
Waiver for Congestion Mitigation Program: The FAST Act will provide flexibility for transportation funds under the air quality program with respect to states with low population densities, freeing up funds to be spent on local priority projects rather than compliance fees. This is important for communities such as Fairbanks.
Regulatory Relief/Permitting Reform Provisions: This bill improves and streamlines environmental review processes to help lower costs and reduce delays in essential safety projects.
Positive Train Control: In October 2015, Congress extended the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) for three years. The FAST Act provides new tools to finance the implementation of Positive Train Control.