(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) today applauded Congressional passage of a long-term transportation bill that will fund federal highway and transit programs through 2014, avoiding a pending shutdown of the federal transportation program and providing critical certainty for New Hampshire transportation projects such as I-93. The legislation also prevents a pending increase in student loan interest rates.
The legislation was passed by both chambers of Congress today and will now be sent to the President for his signature.
"The long-term transportation bill will provide a tremendous economic boost for New Hampshire,” Shaheen said. “It will mean new construction jobs and much-needed certainty on transportation projects, including I-93, which are vital to an efficient economy. At the same time, preventing an increase in student loan interest rates will make a huge difference to those students and families struggling to make ends meet while they seek the training they need to succeed. At the end of the day, these policies both come down to the same thing: investing in the future of our economy.”
The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (S.1813) maintains transportation funding at close to current levels nationally, increases transporting funding for New Hampshire, 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.
“Final passage of the transportation bill is great news for New Hampshire’s economy and our transportation system,” said Chris Clement, Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation. “This is a big step in allowing the New Hampshire Department of Transportation to fulfill its mission of improving the state’s economy, creating jobs, and maintaining the high quality of life we enjoy in New Hampshire. The Department is grateful to the work of our congressional delegation for their efforts to support safe and efficient transportation in New Hampshire.”
The long-term extension will increase New Hampshire’s transit funding by $3 million a year and highway funding by $10 million a year over current levels and will give state officials the security needed to move forward with important transportation projects. The I-93 project has been a critical priority for New Hampshire for several years, yet the lack of a sufficiently funded long-term highway bill has put the project in jeopardy. State officials said the long-term bill will give them the certainty needed to plan for the future. They will now start a statewide review of deferred projects, including parts of I-93, to see which can be accelerated. Business groups and business owners across the state have voiced the importance of this investment to keeping New Hampshire’s economy operating efficiently and competitively.
The final bill includes amendments that Shaheen introduced and worked on to help New Hampshire use federal funding more efficiently for the state’s unique needs.
- One amendment sponsored by Shaheen will give transit systems with fewer than 75 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.
- A second bipartisan amendment from Shaheen will ensure that the voices of local officials are heard when it comes to planning transportation infrastructure investments. It rolls back proposed changes to federal transportation policy that would have made it more difficult for local planning organizations to have a voice in transportation decisions.
- A third amendment, cosponsored by Shaheen, preserves funding for local bus and rail service. It will allow state transportation departments to continue to support projects that demonstrate success in reducing congestion and improving air quality, preserving crucial funding for the Downeaster Amtrak and Boston Express bus.
Congress also heeded Shaheen’s call for a bipartisan agreement on avoiding interest rates on subsidized Stafford Loans from doubling at the end of this week. This increase in rates would have brought interest rates from 3.4% to 6.8%, adding an additional $1,000 in student loan debt on average to 7.4 million students nationwide. New Hampshire already has the highest average student college debt in the nation at $31,408.
Shaheen recently asked constituents how they would be affected by an increase in student loan costs. Within days, more than 650 wrote back with their stories. She also held a press call this past week with two New Hampshire residents, Coua Early of Newport and Dennis Jette of Nashua, who shared their stories about how they and their families would be affected by the increase in student loan interest rates.
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