Washington, D.C. – Congressman Steve Chabot (R-Westwood) on Wednesday voted against the partisan transportation bill (H.R. 2) proposed by House Democrats. Incredibly, not only would the legislation add a trillion dollars in new spending unrelated to transportation projects (none of which is paid for), it would also impose a massive new federal regulatory regime, and make it more difficult for the Brent Spence Bridge and Western Hills Viaduct replacement projects to receive federal funding.
“Our nation’s transportation infrastructure is in desperate need of repair,” said Chabot. “At a time when states and local governments are facing significant financial difficulties due to decreased revenue resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, they need more certainty, not less, from the federal government. The current transportation bill is set to expire at the end of September, and instead of working in a bipartisan manner to reauthorize these critical programs and helping states and local governments pay for much-needed infrastructure improvements, Speaker Pelosi is playing partisan, political games. The legislation is so full of political favors and set-asides that its enactment would make it much more difficult to obtain federal funding for the Brent Spence Bridge and the Western Hills Viaduct. Fortunately for our community, this legislation is nothing more than a messaging bill, with no chance of ever being enacted.”
Among the many problems with H.R. 2, the legislation is yet another attempt by Speaker Pelosi to enact the Green New Deal, and will lead to massive new federal mandates that will both drive project costs up and slow down the construction and permit process. Additionally, the legislation adds over a trillion dollars in non-transportation spending, without making any attempt to pay for or offset that new spending.
But even worse for Cincinnati, the legislation is packed with harmful provisions setting aside federal transportation funds for projects in rural areas, small towns and the largest metropolitan areas in the country. If enacted, these provisions would make it far more difficult for mid-sized cities, like Cincinnati, to receive federal transportation funding.
Since the ban on earmarks was implemented several years ago, most federal highway dollars have been returned to the states in the form of block grants. The remaining funds are awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) via discretionary grants, which are supposed to be awarded on a competitive basis. H.R. 2, however, attaches strings to most of that money, which will direct funds to certain projects regardless of merit.
First, the legislation would create a new gridlock grant program, which could only be used in the ten largest metropolitan areas in the country. Cincinnati is not one of the ten largest metropolitan areas, and therefore won’t be eligible for these funds.
Next, H.R. 2 would create a new grant program for local transportation projects, called the Community Transportation Investment Grant Program. The legislation specifically sets aside 25 percent of the total funds made available for the program for projects in rural areas, as well as another 25 percent for projects in small cities and towns (with populations between 50,000 and 200,000.) Since Cincinnati has a population exceeding 300,000, it would not be eligible for either of these set-asides, meaning that a project like the Western Hills Viaduct replacement would have to compete for funds with projects from throughout the rest of the country from a significantly smaller pot of money.
Lastly, H.R. 2 contains several significant changes to the grant program for projects of national and regional significance, which could significantly hamper efforts to obtain federal funds for the Brent Spence Bridge replacement.
In 2015, Chabot joined a bipartisan group of local lawmakers to successfully push for the creation of this critical grant program in the FAST Act, which was signed into law by President Obama. The program was designed specifically for large transportation projects that benefit an entire region or the nation. The Brent Spence Bridge, which carries Interstates 71 and 75 from Ohio into Kentucky, is a major component of two of the nation’s most significant freight corridors. As such, the proposed replacement bridge is exactly the type of project Congress had in mind when creating this program.
H.R. 2, however, would significantly alter the program, by, among other things, inserting several “Additional Considerations” for USDOT to weigh in grant award decisions. These “Additional Considerations” could move some projects ahead of the Brent Spence Bridge replacement project.
Congressman Chabot introduced two amendments that were intended to address these inherent problems in H.R. 2, and make sure that the Brent Spence Bridge and Western Hills Viaduct replacement projects received fair consideration under the legislation. However, Democratic leadership in the House blocked consideration of those amendments, as they did with the vast majority of Republican amendments.
On a more positive note, the House did adopt an amendment offered by Chabot and Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) that would help combat drunk and impaired driving. Often times, a person charged with impaired driving in one state has similar charges or convictions in other states as well. This bipartisan amendment would require a Government Accountability Office study on the potential impact of a federal database to help states better identify repeat impaired driving offenders and get them off our roads and highways.
“Ultimately, this legislation spends too much money, creates too many new burdensome regulations, and could potentially do too much harm to our community for me to support it,” continued Chabot. “After this legislation dies a quick death in the Senate, I hope we begin a serious discussion on what the next transportation bill should look like. The House Republican bill, which reauthorizes current programs with a ten percent increase in funding, is a good place to start.”