Senate Bill Seeks to Prioritize Emergency Transpo Projects

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Sherman Minton Bridge

Sen. Rand Paul wants Congress to ignore the beauties and fix the beasts.

The Kentucky Republican and Tea Party favorite has a new bill out. It takes money set aside for highway beautification, cosmetics and other "extras" and instead targets it toward infrastructure in crisis. The point is to spend more on emergency infrastructure needs without having to wait for roads to crumble or bridges to collapse.

Case in point: The Sherman Minton Bridge spanning the Ohio River and linking Louisville, KY, with New Albany, Indiana. State officials closed the nearly 50-year-old bridge last month due to safety concerns. Several cracks were discovered and repair cost estimates stand at about $20 million.

President Barack Obama invoked the bridge at his September 22 speech on the importance of the American Jobs Act to infrastructure repair.  A day later,  Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood toured the Sherman Minton Bridge with a passel of other federal officials.

“With an ever-expanding national debt and an increasing number of infrastructure projects nearing crisis level, the best solution to address both is to spend money we already have and put it to better use. By offsetting the cost of these emergency projects with funds previously used for turtle tunnels and squirrel sanctuaries, we are making infrastructure emergencies a priority without compromising our financial stability any further,” Paul said in a statement.

Paul's bill envisions a new National Emergency Transportation Fund, under the control of the Secretary of Transportation. The agency would maintain a prioritized list for emergency repairs on projects like the Sherman Minton Bridge.

Paul's bill is unlikely to get stand-alone treatment in the Senate. Instead it is likely to become part of a complex mix as House and Senate negotiators try and reach agreement on the final version of transportation authorization legislation.