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Amendments to the bill will support New Hampshire transportation projects

(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) applauded the Senate’s passage today of a critical transportation reauthorization bill that will create jobs and invest in infrastructure projects critical to America’s safety and economy. The bill passed 74-22.

“This bill will create jobs, fund critical transportation needs in New Hampshire such as I-93 and keep American companies on the road to success,” Shaheen said. “I am glad we have been able to make improvements to the bill that preserve flexibility for small transit systems and help New Hampshire face some of its unique transportation challenges.”

The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act maintains transportation funding at current levels, reforms the nation's transportation programs to make them more efficient and provides assistance for transportation projects to leverage state, local and private-sector funding. Now the bill heads to the House of Representatives.

“Today’s passage of a transportation reauthorization bill in the U.S. Senate is good news for Granite Staters and users of New Hampshire’s transportation systems,” said New Hampshire Department of Transportation Commissioner Chris Clement.  “The New Hampshire Department of Transportation is committed to building and maintaining transportation infrastructure that is safe, reliable and an asset for economic development in New Hampshire and our communities.  This is especially important for the state’s efforts to finish the I-93 Improvements Project, which currently needs $365 million in additional funding to complete the work on this critical project.”   

Shaheen introduced and worked on several amendments that were included in the final bill that will help New Hampshire transportation officials use federal funding more efficiently for the state’s unique needs.

One amendment sponsored by Shaheen will give transit systems with fewer than 50 peak route buses, such as those in New Hampshire, greater flexibility in spending their federal dollars. This allows them to use the money more effectively by hiring additional operators and avoiding service cuts and fare increases.

Transit agencies in Manchester, Nashua and the Seacoast receive funding via the Federal Transit Administration’s Urbanized Area Formula Grant program.  New data from the Census Bureau threatens to affect how that money is distributed to these areas, defining them for the first time as a part of the greater Boston area. That would result in transit agencies being forced to use federal funds for capital expenses only, which would mean that while they might have money to buy new buses, they wouldn’t have the necessary funds to operate them. The bipartisan amendment (Shaheen-Wicker Amendment # 1678), introduced by Shaheen and Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), is also cosponsored by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

“In these times of tremendous uncertainty, the agreement negotiated by Senator Shaheen is sincerely appreciated,” said Rad Nichols, Executive Director of the Cooperative Alliance for Seacoast Transportation. “Her language will allow for more flexibility in how New Hampshire's urban public transit systems may use the federal funds they are allocated to better meet local and regional needs. We hope that this modified language will be maintained throughout the reauthorization process and ultimately allow Cooperative Alliance for Seacoast Transportation  (COAST) to continue to provide and expand upon the affordable and convenient public transit services seacoast New Hampshire residents and visitors have come to rely upon."

“Senator Shaheen has long been a strong supporter of public transit in New Hampshire,” said Mike Whitten, Executive Director of the Manchester Transit Authority.  “We are a dynamic and diverse state with different needs in different regions.  The language that she has negotiated in this agreement will ensure that each of New Hampshire’s urban public transit systems will maintain the flexibility they need in order to use their federal allocation in the most effective manner for their respective communities. This language will help Manchester Transit Authority continue delivering the highest quality public transit service at the most efficient cost to the taxpayers.”

Two other Shaheen amendments were included in the final bill to help New Hampshire address its unique needs:

Shaheen-Murkowski Amendment #1792 – Preserving local control

This bipartisan amendment will ensure that the voices of local officials are heard when it comes to planning transportation infrastructure investments. 

Currently, state transportation planning is required to take into account the views of local planning organizations, which are made up of local elected officials or their designees. However, a provision in the underlying transportation bill changes how these planning organizations are certified, threatening the existence of New Hampshire’s four planning organizations and their ability to help local officials and communities have a voice in the transportation decisions that affect them. This amendment changes that language to ensure New Hampshire’s local planning organizations can continue.

The amendment, introduced by Shaheen and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), is also cosponsored by Senators Mark Begich (D-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Carl Levin (D-MI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

Collins-Whitehouse Amendment #1644 – Preserving funding for local bus and rail

This amendment will enable state transportation departments to continue support of projects that demonstrate success in reducing congestion and improving air quality. In New Hampshire, it will preserve crucial funding for the Downeaster Amtrak and Boston Express bus service projects.

These projects are in jeopardy of losing the support they get through the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) program, which currently funds projects for a maximum of only three years.  This limitation hamstrings the ability of states to support successful traffic reduction programs.

The Boston Express, which carried 1.7 million passengers in 2008, provides public transportation along the I-93 corridor to Boston, and is moving towards profitability.  However, without increased flexibility for New Hampshire to get this program off the ground, the Boston Express faces service cutbacks and fare increases. This amendment creates a waiver process for congestion reduction projects to apply for continued funding.

The bipartisan amendment, introduced by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), is co-sponsored by Shaheen, Jack Reed (D-RI), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).