While President Biden continues to seek Republican backing for his nearly $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, the American Jobs Plan, a smaller bill focused solely on surface transportation is gaining momentum and strong bipartisan support, including from Oklahoma's senior Senator.
Last week, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, once chaired by Senator Jim Inhofe, unanimously approved the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act (STRA) of 2021.
"That is a very good, very good transportation bill," said Inhofe in an interview the day after the committee sent the measure to the full Senate. Inhofe still sits on the committee, and said the members certainly have their differences.
"In the Environment and Public Works Committee, the Democrats are among the most liberal Democrats and conservatives are among the most conservative," Inhofe said. "But on infrastructure, on transportation, on these things we all get together."
The bill would authorize a baseline of $304 billion over the next five years for state DOTs to spend on road, bridge and rail improvements. Inhofe said even the fiscal hawks support it.
"When it comes to transportation, they don’t want less spending, they want more spending," he said.
Under the bill, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation would get $840 million in the first year, and a total of $.4.35 billion over five years. Among the highlighted projects, the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS) would be eligible for additional grant funding, which Inhofe said could lead to improvements allowing for added capacity and economic impact.
Perhaps most significantly, Inhofe said, State Highway 412, under the Act would be designated as a future interstate highway, stretching from the point where in intersects with I-35 in Noble County all the way east through Tulsa into Arkansas.
"So, we’ll actually have major new areas opening up for the Tulsa area," Inhofe commented.
It's not clear yet if this legislation will get rolled into the Biden infrastructure plan or stand on its own. Inhofe believes the latter.
"I have every expectation that we’re going to be able to get this bill through, because it is so popular," Inhofe said.
The last 5-year surface transportation bill -- the FAST Act -- was passed in 2015. Congress reauthorized it for an additional year last year. It runs out in September.