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Senate passes Thune amendment to protect states’ rights in Highway Bill

Amendment strengthens local control of highway projects

April 28, 2005

Washington, D.C. —  The Senate today approved an amendment introduced by Senator John Thune to the transportation bill currently being debated on the Senate floor to protect state and local governments’ rights to define their own community values. The amendment will prevent the U.S. Department of Transportation from deciding what South Dakota’s community values should be.

Thune’s amendment removes a provision in the Highway Bill that would effectively allow the Federal Highway Administration to dictate states’ respective “community values.” The amendment protects local and state control of highway projects that involve federal dollars.

“Decisions about South Dakota values should be made by local and state officials – not federal bureaucrats,” Thune said. “My amendment will protect states’ rights and guarantee that Washington bureaucrats do not dictate our values.”

Senators Tim Johnson and Craig Thomas co-sponsored Thune’s amendment. Other supporters included the South Dakota Department of Transportation and over half-a-dozen national transportation groups, including the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the Associated General Contractors of America, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, the American Highway Users Alliance, the American Council of Engineering Companies, the Transportation Construction Coalition, and the U.S. Chamber-led Americans for Transportation Mobility Coalition.

“States should have the flexibility to determine how they will work with other state agencies and local communities to address these values rather than having them dictated by the federal government,” said John Horsley, the Executive Director of AASHTO.

As the House and Senate have worked over the past two years to reauthorize the transportation bill, one of the underlying goals has been to improve upon the existing process that states must follow from project inception to completion. Thune’s amendment maintains the goal of streamlining the federal process, while also protecting states’ rights.

Senator Thune introduced the amendment after South Dakota Department of Transportation officials raised concerns with the provision. Thune’s amendment ensures that much needed transportation improvements in South Dakota and across the country aren’t further delayed. Thune’s amendment removes the vague term “community values” from Section 1605(a) of the underlying bill that grants the Federal Highway Administration the authority to “ensure” that any highway facility “will consider the preservation, historic, scenic, natural environment and community values.”

Earlier this week, the Senate accepted an amendment by Senator Thune that will allow Native American tribes the same ability as state departments of transportation to nominate roads to the Secretary of Transportation for designation as Scenic Byways. Senator Thune’s tribal byways amendment was the first such amendment accepted during Senate debate on the transportation bill