Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015—Conference Reportby Senator Patrick J. Leahy
Posted on 2015-12-03
LEAHY. Mr. President, Vermonters take great pride in our historic
downtowns and small communities. In our cities and towns, we have a
culture of getting things done--and finding a way to accomplish our
shared goals. That is why, like many Vermonters, I have been frustrated
with the back-to-back short-term patches to keep our highway trust fund
afloat. I have consistently advocated for a long-term solution that
will give States the ability to move forward with building and
repairing roads, bridges, and byways; to promote rail safety and
transit and to invest in the critical infrastructure that supports our
cities and towns; to enable interstate and intrastate commerce; and to
create jobs for American workers. The time to pass a plan for long-term
transportation funding has finally come.
The FAST Act will bring stability where, for too long, there has been uncertainty. This bill ensures that Vermont will receive the funding it needs, more than $1.1 billion over the next 5 years, to allow Vermonters to move forward on infrastructure projects that have been waiting in the wings. In Vermont, the construction season is short and the need is great, and a series of stopgap measures to kick the can down the road was never the right answer. I am pleased there will finally be the stability needed for Vermont and all States to move forward to bolster our country's infrastructure.
This legislation also reverses changes made to the Federal Crop Insurance program, which was a careful balance first struck in the farm bill, sending a clear message that we should not thoughtlessly tamper with the farm bill until its next expiration in 2018. And while I am glad that the harmful Freedom of Information Act exemptions that we eliminated in the Senate bill remain out of this conference report, I am concerned that a new exemption was added. Nowhere is the free flow of information more important than when the safety of every Vermonter and every American is at stake.
We Vermonters know that, in a democracy, demanding 100 percent of what you want and refusing to negotiate effective compromise is a formula for stalemate and paralysis. As a result, Vermonters know that to actually get something done, compromise is a must, and we have advanced the ball a long way down the field. This legislation provides stability to move our infrastructure forward to support our economy. It supports safety provisions to protect the well-being of those traveling America's highways and rails.
Frankly, to facilitate the thriving communities, commerce, and economic growth that we want and need, we should be doing far more to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. This process should not be reduced to ``searching under sofa cushions''--as some have described it--to scrape together the budget to pay for the vital roads and bridges that are so important to us in so many ways. But with this bill, we finally are providing our States and communities with longer lead times to plan and accomplish this work on our infrastructure, and that signals at least a flicker of progress. We have had enough kicking the can down the road and generating year after year of uncertainty. It is time to bring stability and certainty back to our infrastructure and transportation.