Hoeven, Conrad Outline Transportation Bill, Discuss Flood Insurance Reauthorization, Student Loan Bill

MINOT, N.D. – At a meeting today with city and county officials, Senators John Hoeven and Kent Conrad outlined the benefits to North Dakota of the new U.S. Senate Transportation, Flood Insurance Reauthorization and Student Loan interest rate bill that was passed by the U.S. Senate in a large legislative package last week. The former highway transportation bill had been extended 10 times, making long-term planning difficult for states like North Dakota.

Hoeven was a member of the joint Senate-House conference committee responsible for crafting a package that passed both the House and Senate by large, bipartisan majorities. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 74 to 19 and the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 373 to 52.

Moving Ahead in the 21st Century (MAP-21): New Transportation Streamlining Provisions Will Expedite Infrastructure Projects

When combined with Emergency Road Funding, the transportation legislation provides record funding for North Dakota. The legislation is fully paid for and does not add to the deficit or debt. It funds the rest of Fiscal Year 2012, 2013 and 2014, providing states like North Dakota with an additional year of funding and greater certainty to plan long-term projects.

The final Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) bill provides funding for North Dakota in the amount of $240.5 million in Fiscal Year 2012, $240.5 million in Fiscal Year 2013 and $242.5 million in Fiscal Year 2014 under the federal highway program. The state will also receive an additional $41.3 million over the three years for public transit programs. Over three years, this legislation provides a total of $764 million to North Dakota for infrastructure.

Combined with $317 million in Emergency Road Funding Congress passed in December to help with flood impacts in communities like Minot, Devils Lake and elsewhere, North Dakota will receive a record $1.08 billion over three years to address highway construction needs statewide, flood recovery efforts and infrastructure projects in Western North Dakota.

In addition, the legislation makes changes to the Indian Reservation Roads Program formula, now called the Tribal Transportation Program, which will help protect North Dakota’s tribal road funding.

The measure also expedites the environmental review process for some highway projects to improve the state’s ability to move forward with needed infrastructure. It includes certain categorical exclusions to fast-track projects that have been determined by the federal DOT to have no significant impacts, and therefore don’t require an environmental impact statement. (See attached fact sheet listing categorical exclusions.)

The legislation also streamlines the number of highway programs from about 90 to 30 to create greater efficiencies and reduce administrative costs, and gives states more flexibility to allocate funding where most needed.

The goal of streamlining programs and categorical exclusions in the bill is to cut by half the time it will take to approve highway projects. Short-term extensions made it difficult for states like North Dakota to plan for large, long-term infrastructure projects. With North Dakota’s economic growth, energy development and 2011 flood impacts, the state needs to build more infrastructure. Some projects have been stalled by permitting delays, as well as extensions that didn’t allow time to plan for long-term projects.

“We worked in a very focused and bipartisan way to pass a new comprehensive transportation bill that will take us through 2014,” the senators said in a joint statement. “That will give the state time and flexibility to plan highway construction and maintenance projects to meet the needs of a growing economy and a growing population statewide, as well as the needs of communities like Minot and Ward County that are working to recover from record flooding. In addition to the longer planning horizon and additional funding, the bill also creates sensible rules to streamline the environmental review process, enabling us to move forward with greater efficiency and timeliness.”

5-Year Flood Insurance Reauthorization Bill: Hoeven Measure Spares Millions from Having To Buy Flood Insurance in Already Protected Areas

After multiple extensions since 2008, the U.S. Senate passed a long-term reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), a bipartisan 5-year flood insurance measure that fully pays for itself, increases the financial stability of the program and provides security for millions of Americans living in special flood hazard areas.

Senators Hoeven and Conrad worked to modify the bill to spare millions of homeowners and businesses across the country from having to purchase flood insurance if they live in so-called “residual risk” areas already protected by sound, federally certified flood protection. Fargo, Williston, Grand Forks, Minot and Mandan – 17 North Dakota communities in all – would have been impacted by the new mandate included in the original version of the bill. The flood insurance bill also contains a provision added by Hoeven that will give Fargo and Cass County flexibility to construct flood protection where needed.

Student Loan Interest Rate Extension

The legislative package passed last week also included a 1-year extension on student loan interest rates for subsidized Stafford Loans. Currently, the interest rate for subsidized Stafford Loans made to undergraduate students is 3.4 percent and this bill continues that rate for one year, until July 1, 2013, rather than allowing it to go to 6.8 percent. Subsidized Stafford Loans are need-based loans and are only available to undergraduate students.