By U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (AL-1)
I’ve written many times about the need for Congress to pass a reliable, long-term bill to fund our nation’s highway system. I’ve considered this one of my top priorities in Congress because of how important a new highway bill would be for our area.
I have repeatedly voted against short-term highway bills that simply put the problem off a few weeks or months. I believe it is critically important that Congress stop passing the buck on major issues and instead make the difficult decisions that our constituents elected us to make. We have to stop the cycle of governing from crisis to crisis.
In Southwest Alabama, we have numerous highway projects in need of attention. Whether it is four laning Highway 84 in Monroe and Clarke counties, finishing the Baldwin Beach Express out to I-65, or widening Highway 45 in north Mobile and Washington counties, there are projects all across the First Congressional District.
No local transportation project has gotten as much attention as the need for a new I-10 Bridge over the Mobile River. No matter where you live in Southwest Alabama, you have probably been affected by the backups on I-10. This project has been decades in the making, and the need gets greater every day.
Last week the House made some real progress when we passed a new, six-year highway bill. I was proud to support this legislation, which would provide the certainty needed to move forward with new projects and make much needed improvements to our nation’s ailing infrastructure.
Many Democrats wanted to pay for the highway bill by raising the gas tax, but this bill rejects that flawed idea and does not raise taxes at all. Additionally, the bill would reform our nation’s surface transportation system, promote innovation to make the highway system more efficient, and maintain a strong commitment to safety. The bill also helps streamline the federal bureaucracy and cut down on unnecessary paperwork.
Having a safe and reliable highway system is vitally important to a strong economy, and this bill will allow us to strengthen our highway system so we can remain competitive on the world stage. Prospective businesses always look at the local transportation system when deciding where to locate, so the highway bill most certainly can be considered a “jobs bill.”
I was especially pleased to see the highway bill include a new grant program for “Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects.” These are projects that generate national or regional economic benefits and reduce highway congestion and bottlenecks. Under this new program, it will be at the discretion of the Secretary of Transportation to pick which highway projects would qualify for the special funding.
The good news is that current Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx visited Mobile earlier this year at my invitation to learn more about the I-10 Bridge project. During his visit, he promised to make the project a priority, and I feel confident he would designate our project a “National Significant Freight and Highway Project.” This would go a long way toward securing the funding needed to build the bridge.
The House and Senate have each now passed a six-year highway bill. Since the bills are slightly different, a conference committee made up of House and Senate members has been formed to work out the differences. The current highway bill expires on November 20, so I am optimistic we can have a new, long-term bill finalized by that point.
If we are able to get the bill to the President’s desk for his signature, it would be the first highway bill authorizing more than two years of funding that the President has signed since 2005. That would be a major accomplishment and a big step toward improving our nation’s highway system.