Transportation Today

Sen. Hyde-Smith visits Miss. company to discuss rural infrastructure needs

By Chris Galford

In a recent visit to Thompson Machinery in Mississippi, U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) discussed new legislation that proposes revamping permitting and review processes to get more federal infrastructure funds to rural communities.

The senator hyped the Paving the Way for Rural Communities Act, S. 2430, as a new approach to ensure rural towns and communities are competing on fair ground for federal infrastructure resources. The bill provides specific exemptions for non-metropolitan areas, sparing federally funded infrastructure projects from a number of existing laws, including: the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“The permitting and review processes now in place are an incredible burden for rural Mississippi, where hiring expensive consultants and lawyers is out of the question,” Hyde-Smith said. “The Paving the Way for Rural Communities Act would eliminate the pitfalls that keep rural communities from upgrading the infrastructure they need to grow and prosper. More highway and road projects will, in turn, require more equipment and other services. That is why this bill and other infrastructure legislation needs to move through Congress.”

In this way, Hyde-Smith says, rural communities would save significant costs they currently bear to comply with federal requirements on highway construction or economic development. Urban areas, which generally also have more resources at their disposal, are better able to accommodate the attorneys, consultants and experts typically required of such projects. Hyde-Smith argues this leads numerous rural communities to refrain from participation in federal transportation and economic development programs.

Hyde-Smith is also a cosponsor of legislation that would rehabilitate or replace failing bridges throughout the country, the Bridge Investment Act, S. 2310. That bill proposes a competitive grant program for the repair and replacement of deficient and outdated bridges for fiscal years 2021 through 2025.

The bridge bill was included in the sweeping America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act, S.2302, a five-year surface transportation measure that was recently passed by the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

“Unsafe bridges across Mississippi detract from all the good work being done to strengthen the state’s economy. There is definitely a need for a concentrated focus on bridge rehabilitation and replacement,” Hyde-Smith said.