Merkley Announces Oregon Priorities Included in Transportation Funding Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley today announced key Oregon priorities—from electric vehicle infrastructure, to grants for rural infrastructure, to funding for resiliency measures to counter the effects of climate-related hazards—are included in the reauthorization of a surface transportation funding bill that passed out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) today. The next step for the bill is a vote by the full Senate.

“Everywhere I go in Oregon—rural or urban, east or west—people are looking for help building and rebuilding for the future,” said Merkley, who serves on the EPW Committee. “They know building stuff means good jobs now, and that there’s no shortage of important work to do. In addition to more funding for the roads, bridges, and transit improvements every community needs, this bill puts serious resources into resiliency. It will help Oregon prepare for the increasingly frequent extreme weather events and natural disasters and the sea level rise caused by climate chaos. If we are serious about investing in our communities and our future, we should do far more infrastructure building, but this is a good down payment.”

The America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act (ATIA) is a five-year bill that that authorizes and funds all of the nation’s surface transportation; the current authorization expires in fiscal year 2020. The next five-year bill authorizes $287 billion, a nearly 28 percent increase over current levels.

Merkley fought for and won the inclusion of the following Oregon priorities in the bill:

Rural project funding increase: Merkley fought to increase the federal match for Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant projects in small communities to an 80-20 ratio, up from a 70-30 federal-local ratio. The increased match will increase the impact INFRA grants have in supporting rural projects.

Resiliency investments: As Oregon communities continue to experience the serious impacts of climate change—sea level rise on the coast; extreme snow storms and heat inland; longer, more intense wildfires across the state—Merkley pushed for bill language in numerous programs that provides funding to improve the resiliency of surface transportation. These programs impact everything from innovative updates to national highways and bridges, to providing impacted communities with emergency relief. Merkley fought to have many of these investments included in the “Climate Change” subtitle, to make clear why the improvements are needed. 

Coastal infrastructure: Merkley helped include in the bill the new Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-Saving Transportation (PROTECT) Grant Program, which includes funding for evacuation routes to get people out of harm’s way during emergencies, and to transport emergency responders and recovery resources to the sites of natural disasters. The program also includes a specific set-aside for grants to address at-risk infrastructure in coastal states; grants can be used for strengthening, stabilizing, and hardening highway and non-rail infrastructure that is increasingly exposed to the threat of severe weather, natural disasters, coastal flooding, storm surge, and sea level rise.

Electric vehicle charging infrastructure: Merkley pushed for significant investments in electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The bill includes a five-year, $1 billion grant program for electric vehicle and alternative fuel infrastructure. The competitive grants are an effort to modernize and connect America’s electric vehicle infrastructure for a clean energy future.

Congestion relief: Merkley pushed for a $200 million competitive grant program that provides funding for innovative technologies to reduce emissions due to congestion—a significant driver of climate change. The grants would help advance innovative, integrated, and multimodal solutions to congestion relief in the country’s most congested metropolitan areas.

Air quality study: The bill requires a study evaluating the effectiveness of the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program in improving air quality. The study will examine ozone, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter—all National Ambient Air Quality Standards pollutants.

Pollinators: The bill includes a new Invasive Plant Elimination grant program for states to remove non-native plants along transportation corridors. Merkley was able to secure language in the bill to incentivize and increase the federal match for states that replant using pollinator-friendly native plants and wildflowers.