The recently enacted highway bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), will help Kentucky to meet its transportation needs. While not a perfect piece of legislation, it includes necessary funding and improvements that give the Commonwealth a variety of resources to address our infrastructure projects, including the Brent Spence Bridge.
MAP-21 will provide $112 billion in surface transportation funding to States between fiscal years (FY) 2012 and 2014. Of that amount, $1.93 billion will go to Kentucky. Those funds, determined by formula, are passed to each State and territory. The General Assembly in Frankfort is responsible for making decisions about which projects to fund. This State control of federal dollars gives Kentucky the authority to advance projects like the Brent Spence Bridge replacement.
In addition to the formula funding, the final highway bill includes important funding mechanisms that could benefit the Brent Spence Bridge replacement project. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and I led a bipartisan, bicameral effort to ensure the bill included a reformed Projects of National and Regional Significance Program.
PNRS establishes a merit-based process for funding mega-infrastructure projects. Applications for PNRS funds will be evaluated competitively using enumerated criteria including economic benefit and meeting a minimum cost baseline.
Given that the Brent Spence Bridge carries $400 billion of freight annually and is expected to cost between $2 billion and $3 billion to replace, the replacement project could qualify for PNRS.
MAP-21 also includes a number of reforms and streamlining provisions that shorten the amount of time needed to complete a project. The average time to complete a highway project is an astonishing fifteen years, and much of this is due to bureaucratic inefficiencies in the application and approval process.
MAP-21 requires agencies to set and meet decision deadlines on environmental review, penalizing agencies that continue to delay. The law also broadens States' ability to secure right-of-way to construct a project prior to the completion of the government-mandated environmental review process, which can often take years to finish. Additionally, the law requires a study of which State laws provide the same level of protection as federal law, to avoid unnecessary duplication or confusion.
For each month the Brent Spence Bridge project is delayed, the cost goes up $8 million, so these will be helpful reforms to move the project along more quickly and save money.
MAP-21 is not perfect, but it is a positive step for Kentucky and for rebuilding America's infrastructure.