Today, Congressman Dennis Cardoza (D-Merced) voted in favor of passing H.R. 4348, the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012, which contains several provisions he championed that will benefit Central Valley communities. As a result of a bipartisan letter spearheaded by Congressman Cardoza and signed by the entire Valley delegation and several other California Representatives, language was removed from the bill that would have prevented rural communities from having a voice at the table in the transportation planning process. Previously passed by the Senate, H.R. 4348 will now go to the President's desk to be signed into law.
"This is significant victory for local communities who want to continue having influence in how transportation programs are planned in their area," said Congressman Cardoza. "Since my time on Atwater's City Council, I have been a steadfast supporter of local governance participation in regional projects. I am proud to have led up our Valley delegation's successful effort to maintain our local communities' rights to stay involved in directing transportation funding."
The letter, sent to the joint Senate-House conference committee that finalized the bill's details, reads,
We are writing to urge the transportation reauthorization conference committee to maintain existing metropolitan planning law ..California incorporates a significant amount of local involvement in its transportation planning through [Metropolitan Planning Organizations]. More than 75 percent of the Surface Transportation Program (STP) funding has been programmed by MPOs and smaller Regional Transportation Planning Agencies (RTPAs) for over 20 years. In addition, California has charged these agencies with regulatory and funding responsibilities. However, the population requirements [currently] contained in MAP-21 [the transportation bill] will not only create uncertainty for California planning processes, but will make it more difficult for local officials to participate in many areas of the state.
The 2-year Transportation Reauthorization bill passed today also included significant funding for California highways and transit infrastructure through fiscal year 2014: $7,117,850,106 for highways and $2,479,600,738 for transit. In addition, the reauthorization made permanent the NEPA-CEQA Environmental Streamlining Program that lets the federal Department of Transportation delegate NEPA authority to states that have equal or stronger environmental review laws, making the environmental review process more efficient and less time-consuming. This authority is expanded in the bill to all states and includes rail, public transit, and multi-modal projects -- not just highways as the current program does. The program relieves the state of the burden of performing a full NEPA document when they have already performed CEQA.
The Transportation bill also reauthorizes the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Included in the bill was an amendment that Congressman Cardoza first introduced in 2011, which will protect Valley businesses and homeowners from being required to purchase unnecessary federal flood insurance and comply with onerous new building standards. The Cardoza provision would prevent properties already protected by levees and other flood control systems from being included in FEMA's flood maps as areas of "residual risk." Even if the areas have no history of flood losses, this residual risk designation would require the purchase of federal flood insurance and compliance with costly new building restrictions for the area. Without the Cardoza provision, in San Joaquin County alone, an estimated 280,000 people who currently have flood protection provided by levees would be required to buy flood insurance.
Also included in today's bill were provisions that prevented need-based federal student loan interest rates from doubling beginning on July 1, 2012. These rates were reduced to 3.4 percent in 2007, but were set to increase to 6.8%, costing California student loan borrowers an average of $1,026 more in interest over the life of their loans. Over 500,000 students in California will benefit from the lower interest rates. The bill also caps the government's payment of student loan interest while a student is in school to 150 percent of the normal time that it takes to complete a postsecondary program.
Congressman Cardoza remarked, "I am extremely pleased that Congress was also able to come together and reach a deal on renewing the flood insurance program and keeping student loan interest rates from doubling. These are commonsense policies that benefit millions of businesses, homeowners, and students."