Udall, Heinrich Welcome Passage of Transportation Bill that Invests in Infrastructure, NM’s Economy, Supports 1,000s of Jobs

FAST Act boosts transportation funding for NM by 5%; president expected to sign it into law today

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Last night, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich joined the Senate in approving a major transportation bill that funds 74 percent of New Mexico highways and bridges and provides almost half of the total transportation dollars spent in the state. The bipartisan Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act passed the Senate on a 83-16 vote, after passing the U.S. House of Representatives earlier in the day. President Obama is expected to sign the legislation today, before current funding runs out at midnight.

The FAST Act authorizes and funds transportation programs for the next five years, providing certainty for local governments that depend on federal funds to maintain roads, highways, bridges and other infrastructure. The bill boosts funding for New Mexico transportation projects by 5 percent — $18 million — this year, and continues to increase funding by an average of $8.5 million each year through fiscal year 2020. For the total five year period, it invests more than $1.9 billion in New Mexico. Funding is typically distributed to the states in the form of formula funding and competitive grants, and projects are determined by the state and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“I’m glad Congress came together and found a longterm solution to help New Mexico communities strengthen our roads, bridges and highways,” Udall said. “In New Mexico alone, this bill will directly support over 6,000 construction jobs and thousands more New Mexicans who work in transportation and maintenance. It increases transit funding for our state by 5 percent, a much-needed boost to our highways and local economies. We’ve also secured several important safety and consumer protection provisions that will help families stay safe on the road. I’m especially pleased that we’re making research mandatory for critical technology to prevent drunk driving. Within a few years, this breakthrough alcohol detection system could be ready to be installed in cars, saving 59,000 lives over 15 years.” 

"Public transit, roads, and other transportation infrastructure are critical for economic development and keeping our families safe while traveling,” Heinrich said. “The nearly $2 billion included for New Mexico over the life of this bill will provide the state with the economic certainty needed for longterm planning and job creation." 

In addition to an increase in funding for New Mexico’s roads and bridges, highlights include: 

- Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS): Changes DADSS program from optional to mandatory, and provides funding through 2020. Udall has championed the program, which would prevent a driver with an illegal BAC limit of .08 percent or above from starting a DADSS-equipped vehicle, and worked to include it in the bill.

- Tribal Transportation Program: Helps provide safer transportation and public road access for Native American communities. The program will receive an immediate increase of $15 million for fiscal year 2016 and nearly $55 million by 2020.

 - Automaker Cover-up Penalties: Protects consumers by extending the time period for automakers to pay for defect remedies from 10 to 15 years; extends the period companies must retain safety records from five to 10 years; and increases the maximum cap on civil penalties for violations of motor vehicle safety standards and laws from $35 million to $105 million. 

- Car Recalls: Protects drivers by encouraging car dealers to check for open recalls at the time of service and prohibiting rental car companies from renting or selling recalled vehicles before they are fixed. 

- Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects: Opens up additional funding opportunities for New Mexico communities by creating a new competitive grant program for transportation projects of regional and national significance, similar to the TIGER grant program.

- Crude Oil Tank Safety: Requires new safety standards for rail cars transporting crude oil, including thermal jackets to increase burn time and standards for top fittings. It also requires the Department of Transportation to move forward with a comprehensive oil spill response plan, including improving communication between railroads and local emergency response.