U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown wants Congress to act quickly on a long-term transportation bill to provide money to fix the nation’s highways and bridges, but the legislative body is focused on only a six-month extension.
At a press conference Monday near the construction site of U.S. Route 224 and Interstate 680 in Boardman, a $5.8 million project that received 80 percent of its funding from the federal government, Brown discussed his concerns about the need for a six-year bill.
“A long-term investment in our nation’s infrastructure is vital to strengthening our nation’s economic competitiveness and ensuring that thousands of hardworking Ohioans continue to rebuild our bridges and roads,” said Brown, a Democrat from Cleveland.
The transportation bill Congress is considering would provide $8 billion for highway and bridge projects for a six-month period, beginning Oct. 1. Without the extension, critical roads and bridges — including those in the Mahoning Valley — would be delayed, Brown said.
“It’s about keeping construction workers on the job and keeping our roads safe for motorists,” he said.
Tea-party conservatives are delaying the process, Brown added.
“A majority of tea-party members don’t think there’s a federal role in transportation projects,” he said.
There are “some major projects” in the Mahoning Valley that need federal funding, said John Getchey, executive director of Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.
At the top of that list is a $120 million improvement project to Interstate 80 between I-680 and Belmont Avenue. The project, which is to receive $37 million in federal funding, would add one lane in each direction and improve four bridges, he said. The project is to start April 2015 and take a couple of years to finish.
“Without federal funds, the project won’t move ahead,” Getchey said.
Congress approved a two-year transportation bill in 2012 to spend about $100 billion. In 2005, Congress approved a four-year, $244 billion bill. In between those bills, Congress approved nine temporary short-term fixes, including one for just three months.
Stability from a long-term transportation bill is needed to improve roads and bridges, which have been neglected since the 1980s, Brown said.
The Mahoning Valley has 122 bridges considered by the Federal Highway Administration to be “structurally deficient” — 33 in Mahoning County, 68 in Trumbull County and 21 in Columbiana County.