Back to Work: Supporting Transportation and Aviation
When I returned as Chairman of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) committee this Congress, my top priority was to pass a long-term transportation bill in order to update our nation’s crumbling roads and bridges. The FAST Act, which was signed into law last December and fully paid for, provides approximately $300 billion for the nation's surface transportation programs over five years and $3.6 billion just for Oklahoma. The law also supports American job creation, promotes safety, and preserves our global economic standing.
Funding our nation’s roads and bridges is one of Congress’s primary constitutional duties, and I am proud that my colleagues and I were able to accomplish this task. As we saw in the July jobs report, construction industry's pay rose at the fastest rate in seven years and the pool of unemployed, experienced construction workers shrank to the lowest level since 2000. Just as important, more than 4,400 jobs were created in the transit and ground transportation sector. The FAST Act has now given our states and local governments certainty in their partnership with the federal government to improve our nation’s vast transportation network, empowering the private sector to do what it does best – create jobs and stimulate our economy.
To further the efforts of the FAST Act, this past May the Senate passed the annual Transportation and House and Urban Development (THUD) appropriations bill. This bill affirmed FAST Act funding levels for the next fiscal year with strong bipartisan support, giving our states and local economies additional certainty in economy-boasting construction projects.
Specifically for Oklahoma, the THUD bill would appropriate $706.3 million for modernization of our roads and bridges in fiscal year 2017, as promised in the FAST Act.
It also includes a provision, at my request, that would require the Department of Transportation (DOT) to update its regulations to ensure natural gas vehicles are treated equally to other vehicles unless there is a compelling safety reason not to do so. Currently, a number of DOT regulations make it more difficult for natural gas vehicles to be adopted into widespread use. This includes regulations concerning the placement of natural gas fuel tanks on public transportation buses. Some localities have also placed inappropriate regulations regarding the use of natural gas powered semi-trucks and buses on bridges and in tunnels that are inconsistent with federal interstate highway regulations.
The appropriations bill would also fund important aviation priorities in Oklahoma, to include fully funding the Contract Towers program. This program supports our aviation industry that accounts for more than 120,000 jobs across Oklahoma. These towers impact not just general aviation safety but also serve emergency medical and law enforcement operations and agricultural activities and connect a number of businesses across the nation to our state.
The THUD bill would direct FAA to also work with airports to replace aging control towers and specifically would encourage the FAA to enter into cost recovery leases with airports, which would provide Tulsa the funding certainty necessary to quickly build a new tower. Furthermore, it would direct FAA to prioritize grant funding for airports that need to replace runways that are no longer in compliance with safety standards, such as Bristow’s Jones Memorial Airport.
What’s next for this legislation? The House Appropriations Committee approved their THUD Appropriations bill in May, and it awaits action on the House floor. Once the House can pass its THUD appropriations bill, the two chambers will merge the bills’ priorities and take a final vote to send it to be signed into law. As this process continues to play out, and as Congress works to avoid a fiscal cliff at the end of September, I will be working to ensure Oklahoma’s priorities remain intact.