Fast Act praised in Oklahoma

Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe

Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, Tuesday announced provisions benefiting Oklahoma in the bicameral, bipartisan agreement for the surface transportation reauthorization conference report.

The conference bill introduced by Inhofe and U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) will receive a vote in the House in coming days followed by the Senate. The current authorization for the highway program expires Friday, Dec. 4 at midnight.

“With a fully-funded long-term reauthorization bill, Oklahoma will receive more than $3.6 billion in new transportation funding, making this the largest single infrastructure investment in Oklahoma’s history,” said Inhofe.

“The long-term certainty provided by this five-year bill will end the costly practice of short-term extensions, which have cost Oklahomans more than $122 million since the last long-term bill I authored expired in 2009. These short-term extensions have long frustrated state and local governments, business owners and contractors who I have worked with to restore and modernize Oklahoma’s aging interstate and more than 1,300 bridges in need of serious repair or replacement,” Inhofe said.

OkDriveForward“Passing a long-term highway bill has been my top priority as chairman of the Senate EPW committee, and I’ve been pleased to work alongside my colleagues to make this historic piece of legislation a reality. This bill will provide the long overdue investments needed to put America back on the map as a place to do business,” Inhofe added

The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act will benefit Oklahoma in many ways and has received support from leaders across the state. The FAST Act is a five-year bill dedicated to improving the nation’s surface transportation infrastructure, benefiting our roads, bridges, transit systems, and rail network. The bill reforms and strengthens transportation programs, while refocusing them on national priorities, providing long-term certainty and more flexibility for states and local governments, streamlining the project approval processes, and maintaining a strong commitment to safety.

The following provisions in the FAST Act will directly benefit the state of Oklahoma:

ok-saferoadsApportionment: Under the FAST Act, Oklahoma will receive roughly $693 million the first year the legislation is enacted and growing by inflation thereafter. In 2005, Senator Inhofe authored a highway reauthorization bill that ensured Oklahoma was no longer a donor state to the Highway Trust Fund. The FAST Act continues to guarantee that Oklahoma receives its gasoline taxes for Oklahoma roads and bridges.

OkBridge1Bridges: Oklahoma state and local governments will have more allocated funding for bridges both on and off the National Highway System, so Oklahoma can continue to address the many bridges across the state that are in need of repair or replacement.

National Freight Program: Establishes a freight program, which provides funds to improve goods movement, reducing costs and improving performance for businesses and individuals. Under this program, Oklahoma will receive about $18.5 million in the first year after the legislation is enacted that will be dedicated to improving freight corridors and associated assets allowing for local businesses and farmers to transport products and materials more efficiently, cutting down costs for them and their consumers.

Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects (NSFHP): In addition to the National Freight Program, Oklahoma through the NSFHP will be able to compete for funding to address major projects of high importance to a community, a region, or the country. This will provide much needed funding for projects that are too big to get off the ground due to constraints on traditional funding. In addition, NSFHP has a rural set-aside and equitable geographic distribution of funds. This will ensure a balance of where federal dollars are directed, making sure rural projects see the light of day as well as the major projects that will greatly benefit the national economy.

OkCommerceNatural Gas provisions: Provides for the designation of natural gas fueling corridors to identify the needs and most vital locations for fueling infrastructure. Oklahoma will be able to nominate facilities to be included in the corridors to be chosen by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. In addition, natural gas vehicles can be included as an authorized vehicle in HOV lanes if a state chooses to limit HOV lanes to designated vehicles. The bill also instructs EPA to modify its automobile regulations so that manufacturers of natural gas vehicles are provided with identical regulatory incentives as those manufacturers of electric vehicles. Furthermore, the bill includes a limited truck weight exemption for natural gas commercial vehicles to put them on an even competitive level with trucks that have lighter diesel engines.

HighwayTulsaTribal transportation program: Grows the program by $15 million in the first year, starting at $465 million and growing by $10 million each year thereafter. Decreases program management and oversight and project-related administrative expenses related to the tribal transportation program from 6 percent to 5 percent, so, more money can be used on roads and bridges. Increases the set-aside for high-priority tribal bridges from 2 percent to 3 percent. Authorizes a General Fund appropriation for a major project grant program for transportation projects on facilities owned by federal land management agencies or tribes. Establishes a tribal transportation self-governance program at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Environmental streamlining: Builds on the streamlining provisions Senator Inhofe helped negotiate in the last highway reauthorization bill, MAP-21. Environmental streamlining will allow for the review, permitting, and approval processes to be conducted more efficiently, saving Oklahoma time and money when undertaking projects.

Common sense migratory bird exemption: The FAST Act includes a common-sense exemption from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, with safeguards, to allow reconstruction of bridges that are in a serious or worse condition, without adversely impacting bird populations. This provision will help Oklahoma repair the 1,363 bridges in the state that are in serious condition.

Electricity Reliability provision: Eliminates conflicts between federal energy agency emergency orders issued to utilities to ensure electricity reliability and those utilities’ compliance with environmental laws and regulations.  The section amends the Federal Power Act to clarify that when a utility is under an emergency directive to operate, it would not be deemed in violation of environmental laws or regulations or subject to civil or criminal liability, or citizen enforcement actions, as a result of any actions taken that are necessary to comply with a federally issued emergency order.

Federal Crop Insurance: The FAST Act removes the cuts to the federal crop insurance program contained in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 passed by Congress earlier this year. These cuts would have reduced competition and the quality of service delivered by the private sector in support of individual farmers and ranchers, farm suppliers and processors. Restoring funding ensures the federal crop insurance program remains an affordable and effective tool for farming communities in Oklahoma and across the nation to manage risk in the face of seasonal weather uncertainty.

Service club, charitable association, or religious service signs: Grandfathers existing service club, charitable association, or religious service signs in all states with a size of 32 square feet or less.

TulsaConstructionStopTo view the legislative text as reported out of conference, click here.

To view the explanatory statement, click here.

To view Oklahoma specific information and numbers, click here.

The Oklahoma endorsements of the FAST Act follow:

“Sen. Jim Inhofe understands the critical need for a federally supported trade and travel network. He has been a staunch and vocal advocate for federal transportation infrastructure investment in Congress for three decades and is once again leading a bipartisan charge for a renewed and long term highway bill. The FAST Act greatly improves the investment and the policies that are in current law and will allow the states to work more efficiently in administering the federal program. I applaud the Conference Committee for coming together to bolster our national infrastructure investment levels, roll back unnecessary regulations and administrative burdens and keep our country viable.” – Gary Ridley, Oklahoma’s Secretary of Transportation

“The Department is extremely grateful for the relief from the “one size fits all” Cliff Swallow regulatory provisions of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  The nesting habits of the Cliff Swallow regularly impedes our progress in rehabilitating or replacing the more than 1,300 bridges in Oklahoma that are in serious or worse condition. The flexible, common sense approach defined in the new highway bill will minimize the government red tape delays that place the protection of this non-threatened and prolific species above the safety of the traveling public. The efficiency of our bridge construction operations will increase and the end result will be safer, higher quality and more timely infrastructure improvements to the benefit of Oklahoma and the nation.” – Mike Patterson, executive director for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation

“The new Highway Bill will help our Nation return to one of the basics of our highway system—moving freight.  Upon completion of the interstate highway system authorized under the 1956 Highway Trust Bill, our country began emphasizing ancillary transportation items to include recreation with the development of such things as bicycle paths.  It now, however, is critically important for us to move back to developing highway infrastructure to insure that we can move freight in a timely, efficient manner.  This is critically important to inland, international seaports like our Tulsa Port of Catoosa that offers year round multi-modal freight services through truck, rail, and barge for an ever growing cargo volume—currently over 2 million tons per year.  Since barges cannot go door to door, we must have adequate rail and roadways to deliver and/or receive products to and from barges.  This is vitally important to the 70 industrial clients located here at the Port employing over 4,000 people.  Our thanks to Senator Inhofe for leading our Nation back to the basics of furthering the development and maintenance of our roadway system in his capacity as Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee.” – Bob Portiss, port director of the Tulsa Port of Catoosa

“In Norman, we’ve seen the benefits that come from a long term highway and transportation re-authorization bill.  The railroad underpass east of the intersection of Robinson and Flood Streets is a direct result of such legislation and we applaud and support Sen. Inhofe’s efforts to again bring forward a long term highway bill.  Prior to having the underpass, emergency responders often faced the possibility of being stopped by a slow moving train while rushing to and from Norman Regional Hospital less than a mile away.  This is no longer a concern as traffic moves smoothly under the railway, alleviating congestion and easing the concerns of the emergency workers who respond when time is of the essence.  In addition, Norman has benefitted greatly from safety enhancements and congestion mitigation on Interstate 35 and State Highway 9.  Traffic delays have been reduced significantly and fewer citizens have been injured in traffic collisions.” – Steve Lewis, city manager for the City of Norman

“Road builders across Oklahoma are ready to roll up their sleeves and get back to work building our infrastructure. From the recent ramp closures on the crumbling I-44 Belle Isle Bridge in Oklahoma City to the rehabilitation of I-244 in Tulsa, our infrastructure is in perilous condition. Recently, the weather in Oklahoma has exposed an even greater need for a long-term funding solution for our nation’s roads and bridges. With this new highway bill, we will be able to better plan for Oklahoma’s future, resulting in an infrastructure system that can safely network our nation. We commend and congratulate Sen. Inhofe for his tireless drive to forge a sustainable solution. His actions will not only build Oklahoma but will spur the economy and, most importantly, keep our families safe while traveling. Thank you, Sen. Inhofe, for making Oklahoma’s roads and bridges a top priority.” – Bobby Stem, executive director of the Association of Oklahoma General Contractors

“Our nation’s transportation infrastructure is critical to our economic health and the reauthorization of the highway bill could not be more important. It was vital to an Oklahoma City project, the reconstruction of I-40 in Central Oklahoma City, that replaced a damaged, obsolete bridge with a safe freeway with a longer lifespan. Stable funding will allow communities across the nation  to see these same improvements so that businesses can transport goods and travelers can move safely to their destinations.” – Roy Williams, president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber

“Our transportation system is integral to growth and development of counties everywhere. I commend Senator Inhofe for his efforts on this highway bill as it will enhance the foundation of infrastructure in Tulsa County.” – John Smaligo, Jr., chairman of the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners

“Crop insurance is a vitally important risk management tool for Oklahoma producers and we praise Sen. Inhofe for supporting this issue.” – Terry Detrick, president of American Farmers & Ranchers

“Senator Inhofe has been a tireless champion of the need for and importance of investment in our nation’s infrastructure.  The multi-year surface transportation re-authorization bill is critically important to providing stability and predictability in transportation funding and builds on the MAP-21 reforms with streamlining and flexibility features that will help to accelerate project delivery.  We are encouraged that the action of the Conference Committee will spur attention on the too often delayed but most timely issue of transportation funding.  Senator’s Inhofe leadership in this effort is to be commended.” – Rich Brierre, executive director of INCOG

“We must have a long-term highway reauthorization bill because the nation’s highway and infrastructure system is the foundation of commerce, not just for the strength of our business but more importantly for our customers’ livelihoods. And in no uncertain terms, the number one concern we hear from our customers — both professional truck drivers and traveling families — is for safety on our country’s roadways.” – Tom Love, founder and executive chairman of Love’s Travel Stops

“The new five-year highway bill meets America’s pressing needs for modal and intermodal transportation infrastructure. Through the university transportation centers (UTC) program, this legislation also mobilizes nationwide talent to educate the future workforce, create new knowledge, and develop valuable technologies for current and future transportation systems. As a regional UTC, the Southern Plains Transportation Center (SPTC) is committed to continuing research and teaching made possible by the highway bill.  SPTC is based in Oklahoma and inclusive of universities in all five states of Region 6 (Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas).” – Dr. Tom Landers, Dean, University of Oklahoma Gallogly College of Engineering

“Oklahoma agriculture relies on the safety and strength of our roads and bridges. It’s simple; our farmers and ranchers cannot provide food for the world without dependable transportation infrastructure. The FAST Act’s freight program will improve access to grain elevators and other agricultural facilities, helping farmers get their products to market more efficiently. By removing cuts to the federal crop insurance program, the FAST Act also helps protect farmers whose very livelihood depends on weather and economic conditions. We’re thankful for Sen. Jim Inhofe’s work to protect our vital roads and bridges, and his continual support of agriculture.” – Tom Buchanan, president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau

“NGVAmerica applauds Senator Inhofe’s continued leadership to put more clean-burning natural gas vehicles on our roads. This legislation will help move the ball forward in expanding the use of American-made natural gas as a mainstream transportation fuel. The increased use of domestic natural gas as a transportation fuel reduces tailpipe emissions, lowers dependence on foreign oil, grows American jobs, and keep more money in the pockets of the driving public. Senator Inhofe’s legislation incorporates smart market based incentives for manufacturers who produce natural gas vehicles.” – Matthew Godlewski, president of NGVAmerica

“We greatly appreciate Senator Inhofe’s inclusion of the balanced, common sense provision to resolve conflicts between environmental requirements and grid reliability demands. It is important to know that when a reliability threat exists, utilities can have confidence that their responsive actions will not expose them to unfair liability under the growing number of federal, state and local environmental rules.” – Paul Renfrow, OG&E vice president of Public Affairs

“Electric cooperatives are grateful that the final Highway Bill includes language from S. 848 and H.R. 1558 that allows co-ops to keep the lights on in an emergency without fear of fines and citizen lawsuits.” –  Jeffrey Connor, interim CEO, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association

“OMPA would like to thank Senator Inhofe for his efforts in securing the reliability of the electric grid.  It is critical for the economies of Oklahoma and the United States that we maintain a reliable electric system in the face of these regulatory challenges.” – David Osburn, general manager of the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority

“Senator Inhofe is a longtime advocate of safe and efficient transportation systems which are essential to economic development and national defense.  It is vital that we join Senator Inhofe in supporting this highway bill which is so important to the future of Native Americans and all Oklahomans.” – Bill Anoatubby, governor of the Chickasaw Nation

“Oklahoma’s Electric Cooperatives appreciate the amendments made to the final Highway Bill by Senator Inhofe.  The amendments protect utilities and ultimately consumers from expensive penalties and citizen law suits for temporarily falling out of compliance with an environmental regulation during times of emergency power restoration.” – Chris Meyers, general manager of the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives

“The language contained in Title F Section 61002 provides critically important protection to utilities, generators and transmission operators, that when faced with conflicting obligations, can now be assured that efforts to protect reliability of electric service and the grid can be accomplished in emergencies, without the risk of adverse impacts and liability from regulatory agencies or third parties.  It seems inherently in the public interest to ensure that a party is not obligated to make a decision about whether it must violate reliability standards and risk disruption of vital electric service to the public, or violate environmental regulation and be faced with resulting liability for its decision.  This provision is a common sense approach to resolving such conflicts in the public interest.” – Brian Hobbs, vice president, Legal & Corporate Services, Western Farmers Electric Cooperative

“It seems extremely timely to see this type of positive legislative progress, especially as Oklahoma’s cooperatives begin to restore service from the latest ice storm where thousands of consumers were impacted.” – Gary Roulet, CEO of the Western Farmers Electric Cooperative.