Visiting Local Machinery Company, Miss. Senator Links Road, Bridge Work to Economic Growth
U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) said economic growth in rural Mississippi requires modern infrastructure, and pointed to new legislation she backs to remove barriers that keep rural communities from benefitting from federal infrastructure resources.
Hyde-Smith used her visit to Thompson Machinery to discuss the Paving the Way for Rural Communities Act (S.2430). This legislation would exempt federally-funded infrastructure projects from National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), and Endangered Species Act (ESA) requirements for any area not included in a metropolitan statistical area.
“We need new approaches to ensure rural towns and communities can compete for federal infrastructure resources. The permitting and review processes now in place are an incredible burden for rural Mississippi, where hiring expensive consultants and lawyers is out of the question,” Hyde-Smith said.
“The Paving the Way for Rural Communities Act would eliminate the pitfalls that keep rural communities from upgrading the infrastructure they need to grow and prosper,” she said. “More highway and road projects will, in turn, require more equipment and other services. That is why this bill and other infrastructure legislation needs to move through Congress.”
Exempting rural communities from federal NEPA, ESA, and NHPA would allow them to avoid the significant costs of complying with federal requirements on highway construction or economic development projects. Hiring attorneys, consultants, and other experts is typically necessary to comply with these federal requirements but is cost prohibitive for rural towns and counties with limited tax bases. As a result, some communities simply forego participating in federal transportation and economic development programs.
Important surface transportation legislation also moved forward in the Senate last week with the Environment and Public Works Committee approving a five-year authorizing bill that includes a new program cosponsored by Hyde-Smith to rehabilitate or replace failing bridges.
The America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act (S.2302) incorporates the Bridge Investment Act (S.2310), which creates a new competitive grant program to repair and replace deficient and outdated bridges for fiscal years 2021 through 2025. The bridge program, funded equally through the Highway Trust Fund and annual appropriations, would require the use of American-made steel and iron and ensure eligibility for bridges of all sizes.
“Unsafe bridges across Mississippi detract from all the good work being done to strengthen the state’s economy. There is definitely a need for a concentrated focus on bridge rehabilitation and replacement,” said Hyde-Smith, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The Bridge Investment Act complements Hyde-Smith’s support for bridge programming through the appropriations process. The FY2019 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act included $475 million for a bridge replacement and rehabilitation program in states with a disproportionate percentage of bridges that are in poor condition.
There are more than 47,000 bridges in the United States, including hundreds in Mississippi, that are structurally deficient and require urgent repairs. The American Road and Transportation Builders Association estimates it would take more than 80 years to repair the thousands of deficient bridges throughout the country at the current pace.