By Senator Deb Fischer
I recently participated in a Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee hearing exploring how environmental regulations are impacting the construction of new infrastructure across the nation. As you may know, I’m no stranger to infrastructure policy. When I was a member of the Nebraska Legislature, I served as the Chair of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee for six years. Strengthening Nebraska’s roads and infrastructure has always been a top priority of mine as a lawmaker.
I believe, and I know many Nebraskans agree, the federal government’s goal should be to maximize results, not paperwork or process. The time, energy and effort states are forced to exert to navigate Washington’s mountain of red tape chew up valuable resources.
For example, the Nebraska Department of Roads (NDOR) recently endured a 10-month paperwork exercise – including consultation with five different regulatory agencies – for a simple resurfacing project for an 8-mile stretch of highway between the sparsely populated communities of Wauneta and Hamlet. The stated purpose of these requirements was to “document” that there would be no significant adverse environmental, historical, or social impacts. This information was immediately obvious to NDOR, but the process of “documenting” and transferring the information to the federal government proved overly time-consuming.
I am grateful Governor Heineman wrote to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx about the adverse impact Washington’s red tape is having on our state. We know that infrastructure improvements are directly related to economic growth.
Highways expand and strengthen commerce; they provide for the movement of goods. The effective transportation of goods and products in and out of the state and from farm to market is vital to our agriculture industry. And as Nebraskans know, agriculture is vital to our state’s economy. Highways promote economic development in our communities and growth for businesses. They provide citizens access to services and a better quality of life. One of my guiding principles in the Legislature – a principle I apply now in the U.S. Senate – is that a limited government should focus its resources on meeting its core duties. Infrastructure, including highway maintenance and construction, is one of these important responsibilities.
That’s why I worked so hard to craft the Build Nebraska Act in 2011. This legislation has paved the way for the recently opened Cherry Avenue/I-80 bypass in Kearney and other projects that will enhance infrastructure from the Omaha area, to Lincoln and across our state. I spent four years researching how the state government can responsibly invest in improving Nebraska’s roads and highways. I traveled the state and spoke to countless Nebraskans and various organizations.
Throughout these conversations, I heard a recurring theme. Nebraskans wanted their state government to live within its means and fund only what could be done with existing resources.
In Washington, I refer to this input as Nebraska common sense.
I was proud that my colleagues and I were able to craft a bill the Legislature passed to carry out this objective. Now, we are beginning to see the results: completed and ongoing infrastructure projects across the state.
The success of the Build Nebraska Act is a model for other states, and importantly, a model for the federal government. It is an example I often share with my colleagues in Washington. Rather than raising taxes to solve a problem, the state government lived up to its duty by using only existing resources.
At the federal level, I’m committed to ensuring critical infrastructure projects are administered with the same fiscal and regulatory responsibility we’ve demonstrated in Nebraska. I’m also working hard to cut through the red tape that is slowing down needed progress. Construction that enhances our infrastructure and economic development is great news for all Americans as we work to build a stronger economy and a stronger nation.