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Shaheen, Manchin, Tester Urge Administration to Clarify “Fix it First” Guidance from Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that Impacts Rural States

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Jon Tester (D-MT) requested clarification from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) on recent statements from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) on guidance for use of funds from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) to prioritize “fix it first” projects that increase the operational efficiency of existing roads and highways, rather than projects that expand capacity.

This one-size-fits-all approach fails to take into account the unique needs of rural states like New Hampshire, West Virginia and Montana. The IIJA made clear that funding should be distributed equitably to all communities across the country, codifying set-asides for rural areas across the law to ensure that these communities are not left behind.

The Senators wrote in part, “As members that represent small rural towns, large cities, and everything in between, we are proud that this bill addresses the unique needs of every state in the country, and we look forward to working with you to ensure that all Americans benefit from this monumental legislation. It is important to maintain the careful bipartisan balance that was struck in our negotiations, and we seek to clarify recent policy issued by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).”

The Senators continued, “We can and should ensure maintenance and safety while improving capacity, but rural and urban areas vary greatly in the sorts of projects and investments they choose to prioritize… In seeking to implement the law that we authored, FHWA recently issued a memorandum entitled “Policy on Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Resources to Build a Better America,” providing guidance to FHWA staff “to serve as an overarching framework to prioritize the use of [infrastructure] resources on projects.” This guidance, although well intentioned, has generated a considerable amount of confusion over its intent, purpose, and authority, and additional clarity is warranted. In particular, language in FHWA’s memorandum appears to prioritize projects that modernize and increase the operational efficiency of existing roads and highways over projects that expand capacity. A “Fix It First” requirement was ultimately not what the bipartisan group of negotiators chose to emphasize in the IIJA, instead acknowledging that such a one-size-fits-all approach does not accurately reflect the diverse needs of states across the country.”

The letter can be read in full here.

Shaheen was a lead negotiator of the historic infrastructure bill, leading provisions on broadband and water infrastructure. In June, Shaheen joined President Biden and a bipartisan group of Senators to announce the framework of the package. Shaheen joined members of the bipartisan group on the Senate floor to unveil bill text of the legislation in August. As a core negotiator, Shaheen spearheaded bipartisan provisions around water infrastructure and broadband. Senator Shaheen has also long fought to bring federal dollars back to New Hampshire to invest in critical transportation and infrastructure projects to fix Granite State roads, rail, bridges and ports.