Alaskan Congressman Don Young joined the House of Representatives today in passing the conference report (H.R. 4348) on a new 28-month Highway Bill. This legislation is critically important because it will fund federal highway, transit and highway safety programs through the end of fiscal year 2014. The House overwhelmingly passed this bipartisan legislation by a vote of 373 to 52.
"Make no mistake about it, while this bill could have been better -- it's still a big win for Alaska," said Rep. Young. "Today is also somewhat bittersweet for me. On the one hand, my bill, SAFETEA-LU is now an object of the past -- but on the other hand, we're passing a bill that puts Americans back to work and provides much needed certainty to the transportation industry -- all while cutting bureaucratic red-tape and streamlining the project approval process. Many people helped make this bill a reality, but I want to specifically thank Senator Murkowski and Senator Begich for their work and I look forward to seeing the President sign this crucial legislation."
As a member of the House-Senate Conference Committee, Rep. Young was at the negotiating table and was able to head off these specific funding threats to Alaska:
Alaska Railroad is expected to receive $31 million annually in Federal Transit Authority funding.
Alaska Marine Highway will receive an increase in funding due to this bill placing a greater importance on route miles. Most importantly, Alaskan ferries will receive guaranteed funding because this bill ensures that their funding come from the Highway Trust Fund instead of being subject to the annual Congressional appropriations process.
Tribal Transportation Funding in Alaska will continue to be strong because of the Alaska delegation's efforts. Congressman Young worked on behalf of smaller, geographically isolated tribes -- of which Alaska has many. 200 Alaska tribes stood to lose a total of $13,503,344.96. During conference, Congressman Young worked to ensure that the funds are distributed in a more equitable manner throughout our region. In addition, Congressman Young was successful at including the High Priority Projects (HPP) program, which was eliminated in the Senate bill. For small and medium isolated tribes, HPP is the only realistic option for small tribes to get a project done. HPP provides an opportunity for tribes to compete for up to one million dollars to build a project. HPP was included at an authorization level of $30 million. This will be subject to the appropriations process, and we will have to work as a delegation on an annual basis to ensure this is funded.
"A great deal of thanks goes to Congressman Young and his staff for their hard work to retain critical funding for the Alaska Railroad in the transportation bill," said Chris Aadnesen, ARRC President and CEO. "We deeply appreciate Don's backing as well as the support we received from Alaskans from every corner of the state, our employees, and labor leaders from across the country. The fact that we had Don Young, who is such a great fighter for Alaska and the railroad, on the conference committee was absolutely invaluable. His long term relationships with many of the House and Senate conference committee Members was critical to our success."