Senator John Hoeven today outlined the benefits to North Dakota of the new U.S. Senate Transportation, Flood Insurance Reauthorization and Student Loan interest rate bill that was passed by the U.S. Senate in a large legislative package last week. The former highway transportation bill had been extended 10 times, making long-term planning difficult for states like North Dakota. Joining Hoeven for the news conference was Representative Rick Berg, who discussed his work in the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the bill.
Hoeven was a member of the joint Senate-House conference committee responsible for crafting a package that passed both the House and Senate by large, bipartisan majorities. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 74 to 19 and the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 373 to 52.
Moving Ahead in the 21st Century (MAP-21): New Transportation Streamlining Provisions Will Expedite Infrastructure Projects
When combined with Emergency Road Funding, the transportation legislation provides record funding for North Dakota. The legislation is fully paid for and does not add to the deficit or debt. It funds the rest of Fiscal Year 2012, 2013 and 2014, providing states like North Dakota with an additional year of funding and greater certainty to plan long-term projects.
The final Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) bill provides funding for North Dakota in the amount of $240.5 million in Fiscal Year 2012, $240.5 million in Fiscal Year 2013 and $242.5 million in Fiscal Year 2014 under the federal highway program. The state will also receive an additional $41.3 million over the three years for public transit programs. Over three years, this legislation provides a total of $764 million to North Dakota for infrastructure.
Combined with $317 million in Emergency Road Funding Congress passed in December, North Dakota will receive a record $1.08 billion over three years to address highway construction needs statewide, flood recovery efforts and infrastructure projects in Western North Dakota.
In addition, the legislation makes changes to the Indian Reservation Roads Program formula, now called the Tribal Transportation Program, which will help protect North Dakota's tribal road funding.
The measure also expedites the environmental review process for some highway projects to improve the state's ability to move forward with needed infrastructure by using categorical exclusions, projects that have been determined by the federal DOT to have no significant impacts, and therefore don't require an environmental impact statement. The legislation also streamlines the number of highway programs from about 90 to 30 to create greater efficiencies and reduce administrative costs, and gives states more flexibility to allocate funding where most needed.
The goal of streamlining programs and categorical exclusions in the bill is to cut by half the time it will take to approve highway projects. Short-term extensions made it difficult for states like North Dakota to plan for large, long-term infrastructure projects. With North Dakota's growth, energy impacts and impacts from flooding, the state needs to build more infrastructure and some of those projects have been delayed by permitting as well extensions that didn't allow time to plan for long-term projects.
Hoeven detailed the streamlining provisions in the new U.S. Senate transportation bill at the site of Fargo's Seventh Avenue North overpass bridge project. He said the site underscores the importance of a new highway bill to building and maintaining infrastructure across the state in light of North Dakota's dynamic economy and growing population.
"We have passed a new comprehensive transportation bill that will take us through 2014, which will greatly help with highway planning and construction at a time that North Dakota has both a growing economy and a growing population," Hoeven said. "The bill creates sensible rules to streamline the environmental review process, enabling North Dakota and other states to move forward with greater efficiency to address vital infrastructure needs across the state."
5-Year Flood Insurance Reauthorization Bill: Hoeven Measure Spares Millions from Having To Buy Flood Insurance in Already Protected Areas
After multiple extensions since 2008, the U.S. Senate passed a long-term reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Reauthorization Program (NFIP), a bipartisan 5-year flood insurance measure that fully pays for itself, increases the financial stability of the program, and provides security for millions of Americans living in special flood hazard areas.
Senator Hoeven worked to modify the bill to spare millions of homeowners and businesses across the country from having to purchase flood insurance if they live in so-called "residual risk" areas already protected by sound, federally certified flood protection. Fargo, Williston, Grand Forks, Minot and Mandan -- 17 North Dakota communities in all -- would have been impacted by the new mandate included in the original version of the bill. The flood insurance bill also contains a provision added by Hoeven that will give Fargo and Cass County flexibility to construct flood protection where needed.
In addition, for communities that were damaged in the Missouri River flooding of 2011, the bill provides NFIP coverage for individuals who purchased their flood insurance more than 30 days before experiencing any flood damage, rather than 30 days before FEMA makes a flood in progress designation. Further, the measure requires a report on FEMA's use of Flood in Progress determinations, and requires FEMA to develop new procedures for informing NFIP policyholders when a Flood in Progress has been declared.
Student Loan Interest Rate Extension
The legislative package passed last week also included a 1-year extension on student loan interest rates for subsidized Stafford Loans. Currently, the interest rate for subsidized Stafford Loans made to undergraduate students is 3.4 percent and this bill continues that rate for one year, until July 1, 2013, rather than allowing it to go to 6.8 percent. Subsidized Stafford Loans are need-based loans and are only available to undergraduate students.