U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Statement on Federal Highway Funding

“I am committed to ending this six year cycle of short-term measures.”

The U.S. DOT recently ranked Wisconsin roads third-worst in the nation 

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin released the following statement after the Senate voted to pass a 3-month measure that would continue federal highway aid payments to states through the Highway Trust Fund by a vote of 91-4. The funding authority was set to expire at midnight on Friday.

“Putting people to work rebuilding our roads, bridges and railways creates jobs and boosts our Wisconsin economy,” said Senator Baldwin. “Today’s vote is an important step to ensure that work will continue over the coming months. However, in order for us to create an economy built to last, Congress needs to make a long-term investment in a 21st century American infrastructure that provides businesses with the quality transportation system they need to move their goods to market. I am committed to ending this six year cycle of short-term measures and finally give Wisconsin businesses and residents the confidence they deserve knowing our roads, bridges and other infrastructure will stand to benefit in the long-term.”

Earlier today, Senator Baldwin also supported a bipartisan Senate measure that would extend federal transportation programs for six years. The legislation passed 65-34. However, the House of Representatives adjourned on Wednesday without passing a long-term bill, forcing the Senate to take up and pass the short-term, 3-month extension before tomorrow’s deadline. When they return to session in September, it is expected that House and Senate negotiators will work on a long-term federal transportation compromise.

Included in the Senate’s six-year extension were several oil train provisions championed by Senator Baldwin aimed at increasing safety and transparency along Wisconsin’s oil train routes:

  • Transparency: Senator Baldwin’s amendment would require that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) keep on file the most recent bridge inspection report prepared by a private railroad bridge owner and provide that report to appropriate state and local officials upon request.  After hearing from concerned citizens and elected officials in Wisconsin, earlier this month Senator Baldwin sent a letter to the FRA urging more transparency as state and local seek information on bridge safety.
  • Real-Time Reporting: Senator Baldwin’s amendment addresses concerns raised by the first responder community who would like real-time access to information about hazmat trains entering their jurisdictions in order to better prepare. This amendment modified the bill’s original language that only required real-time hazmat train information to go to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Fusion Centers, who then provide the information to local first responders only in the event of an accident, when it is less useful. Senator Baldwin’s amendment requires DHS Fusion Centers to provide the real-time information to state and local first responders at least 12 hours prior to a hazmat train arriving in their jurisdiction. The transmission must include the train’s expected time of arrival. 

In addition, the Senate legislation included provisions modeled after Senator Baldwin’s Crude-By-Rail Safety Act, which she introduced in March 2015.

  • Comprehensive Oil Spill Response Plans: The Senate bill requires railroads to maintain a plan for responding to a worst-case oil discharge. This provision is similar, but not as robust as the policy included in Senator Baldwin’s Crude-By-Rail Safety Act, which would leave much of the discretion of the contents and submission of the report up to the federal regulatory agencies. The provision included in the Senate bill instead defers to the rail carriers. 
  • Rail Carrier Liability Study: The Senate bill requires the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to initiate a study on the appropriate levels of insurance for railroads carrying hazardous materials.

Senator Baldwin has been leading the charge in Congress on behalf of Wisconsin residents in calling for action on rail safety and railroad conditions in the state. Learn more about her advocacy for rail safety here.

In early July, the U.S. DOT released a report revealing Wisconsin roads ranking third-worst in the country, with 71 percent in poor/mediocre condition. Last week, a private nonprofit organization that researches, evaluates and distributes economic and technical data on surface transportation issues released a report evaluating pavement conditions in the nation’s large and mid-sized urban areas. Among large urban areas, Milwaukee ranks 13th-worst with 46 percent of its roads in poor condition and among mid-size areas, Madison also ranks 13th-worst with 36 percent of its roads in poor shape. In addition, TRIP’s report outlines the vehicle operating costs per driver with Milwaukee residents facing a $753 price tag and Madison driver’s paying $685.

The long-term Senate passed legislation also included a measure to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, which is not only a vital export tool for small businesses, but an important tool for deficit reduction that returned $675 million to the U.S. Treasury last year. Due to inaction by the Republican majority in Congress, the Export-Import Bank authorization expired on June 30, 2015 and the House adjourned for recess without passing legislation to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank.

In June, Senator Baldwin visited Wisconsin companies Appvion, Inc. and Fristam Pumps USA to call for reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank. Since 2007, the Export-Import Bank has supported 27,131 Wisconsin jobs by helping 218 Wisconsin businesses, including 128 small businesses, export $5 billion worth of goods and products made in Wisconsin. In 2014 alone, the Export-Import Bank supported $210.2 million of Wisconsin exports, 46% of which were from small businesses. In 2014, the Export-Import Bank supported 3,340 small-business transactions, $27 billion in total U.S. export sales and 164,000 jobs.