U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) wants disaster-damaged roads and bridges repaired faster -- by exempting those repair projects from now-mandated environmental reviews.
He has filed an amendment to a federal transportation bill that may be considered this week to expedite the reconstruction of damaged roads, highways, bridges, rail bridges and transit facilities after disasters.
"If you had a permit for the original bridge or road and you are simply rebuilding it in the same place, why should another permit be needed?" asked Toomey in a news release.
"I have witnessed the damage a natural disaster, like a tropical storm, can have on a community. In the aftermath of these events, relief efforts to repair homes and businesses are often stymied due to significant roadway damage.
"To get help quickly to the victims, states and municipalities should be able to make essential infrastructure-based repairs without having to navigate excessive red tape. "
Toomey resides in Zionsville, Lehigh County.
He expected be on the Senate floor around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday to discuss his "common-sense amendment" to the federal highway bill.
His remarks will be carried on CSPAN-2 or can be viewed online.
His proposal is similar to one offered by former Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) during the 2012 transportation bill debate and is being supported by the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs and SEPTA.
Counties own and are responsible for more than 4,000 bridges over 20 feet in length, and many more shorter spans, said Douglas E. Hill, executive director of the state's county commissioners association.
"Our bridges are necessary to get families to work, goods to market, and children to school," said Hill.
"For some time it has been a priority for us to expedite the permitting process when repairs or replacements are necessary for these bridges. And the need for prompt repair or replacement is critical when the structure is damaged in an emergency.
"The proposed amendment strikes an appropriate balance by extending the permit exemption just to bridges that are purely like-kind repair or replacement for the existing damaged structure, and are damaged in a declared disaster."
"Boroughs throughout Pennsylvania support common-sense language offered in Senator Toomey's amendment," said Ed Troxell, director of government affairs at the state boroughs association.
"When disaster strikes, residents need assistance as soon as possible. Borough police, fire and EMS need to respond too and without safe local bridges, passable streets and accessible roadways getting life back to normal becomes much more difficult."
"Sen. Toomey's amendment is a common-sense approach to reduce costs and burdensome delays for state and local governments in the aftermath of disasters," said Commissioner Malcolm Derk of Snyder County.
"This approach will save taxpayer dollars and allow for an efficient and speedy recovery in rebuilding our vital infrastructure."
"This is an amendment that will help Dauphin County and other counties across the country deal with the timely repair of roads and bridges following a disaster without cumbersome and unnecessary federal bureaucratic barriers" said Commissioner George Hartwick of Dauphin County.
"Thank you to Sen. Toomey for his leadership on this issue."