U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet introduced deficit-neutral legislation Tuesday to remove a problematic cap that limits the emergency transportation funds Colorado can access to rebuild the state's battered roads, bridges and highways in the wake of the recent flooding.
The bill, the Deficit Neutral Infrastructure Disaster Relief Act, would tap already appropriated dollars and allow Colorado the same flexibility to use existing relief other states have received in the wake of massive natural disasters.
Current law restricts access to a large portion of emergency road funds administered by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration to $100 million per disaster. The governor and the Colorado Department of Transportation have estimated that the damage resulting from last week’s historic flooding will be in the range of $300 million to $500 million, easily exceeding the current funding restrictions. In recent years, Congress has raised the cap for states devastated by Hurricanes Gustav, Ike and Irene as well as the 2011 Missouri River flooding.
"This common-sense and deficit-neutral proposal will help Colorado reconnect communities along the Front Range and in the foothills where overflowing creeks and streams literally washed away roads, bridges and highways," Udall said. "With winter upon us, the time is now for Congress to stand united to help Colorado rebuild. With Coloradans by my side, I will keep fighting to make this simple change to our disaster-response and clear the way for the U.S. Department of Transportation to help our communities rebuild in the wake of our state's most destructive natural disaster."
"As the floodwaters recede, Coloradans are beginning the long road to recovery. The damage to our roads and bridges is devastating and will be a critical need throughout the rebuilding process," Bennet added. "With cost estimates already exceeding the emergency funding caps, it is crucial that this funding cap be lifted for Colorado to get this important infrastructure back in working order."
Colorado's members of the U.S. House of Representatives are expected to introduce bipartisan companion legislation.
Udall, Bennet and Colorado's members of the U.S. House of Representatives have worked since the flooding began to ensure Colorado communities and agencies have every federal resource they need to save lives, protect homes and start the recovery process. They led a delegation effort last week to urge the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to make crucial resources available to help Colorado recover from the recent historic floods by lifting the cap on funds that can be used for infrastructure-related expenses. Udall and Bennet also welcomed the release of $30 million in emergency transportation funds.
Udall and Bennet each spoke to the nation last week from the U.S. Senate floor to underscore not only the extent of the disaster itself, but also the resilience and strength Coloradans have shown in the wake of the floods. The lawmakers say they will continue to coordinate with Colorado's congressional delegation and federal agencies to advocate for additional federal resources to aid in recovery efforts.