Senate measure would restore federal funding for local bridges

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | 6/9/2015

A U.S. senator wants to restore a program that would set aside a certain amount of federal funds to fix up and replace local or “off-system” bridges. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., wants to bring back the local bridge program that was changed but not entirely eliminated in the 2012 highway bill.

The federal “set-aside” for local bridges had existed from 1978 until the 2012 passage of MAP-21, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century. MAP-21 altered the minimum and maximum amount of federal funds that states were required to use for bridges off the Interstate Highway System, according to Ryan Bowley in OOIDA’s Washington, D.C., office.

The Gillibrand resolution would restore a 15 percent minimum and 35 percent maximum of federal funds that could be used for local bridges. For truckers, those local bridges are significant for pickups and deliveries, and they’re often the ones that go without needed repairs due to shortfalls.

“The issues that the senator raises are certainly real, especially when many communities across the country face the need to replace bridges and the cost to replace those bridges are higher than a community’s entire budget,” Bowley said.

“Prior to MAP-21 there had been a program that allowed states to use federal money for off-system bridges,” Bowley said. “You’ve got local bridges, and they’re expensive, and states don’t have the money to pay for them on their own, so some federal dollars went towards that.”

Bowley says the off-system bridge provision being offered by Gillibrand will most likely be rolled into the next highway bill – or at least debated there.

“This will be an issue in reauthorization,” Bowley said. “This is an issue for a lot of rural states that don’t have a lot of money.”

Gillibrand issued a statement about her effort, saying that 50 percent of New York’s bridges are locally owned, and about one-third of them are in need of repair or replacement.
“My amendment will finally give states the flexibility to spend federal transportation dollars where they’re needed most, including thousands of locally owned bridges across the state,” she stated. “This is among my priorities for the federal transportation spending bill we’ll pass this year, and I will continue to fight to ensure that New York receives the resources it needs to maintain and improve our critical infrastructure.”

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