WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA), worked with Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Chairman U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), to secure the inclusion of key provisions for Indian tribes in the Senate passage of the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act (DRIVE Act). The DRIVE Act was included in H.R. 22, the legislative vehicle for the Highway bill.
The Senate-passed DRIVE Act includes substantial funding increases for the Tribal Transportation Program (TTP) through fiscal year 2021 – a top priority for Indian tribes. The TTP helps provide safe and adequate transportation and public road access for American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
Under current law, funding for this program has remained flat at $450 million per year. In the Barrasso-Inhofe agreed language in the Senate-passed DRIVE Act, the TTP will receive an immediate increase of $15 million for fiscal year 2016 and $10 million every year thereafter, culminating in $515 million for tribes in 2021.
The increases in the DRIVE Act mirror S. 1776, the Tribal Infrastructure and Roads Enhancement and Safety Act (TIRES Act), a bill sponsored by Chairman Barrasso. The TIRES Act passed the SCIA unanimously on July 22, 2015.
“The Senate has taken significant steps towards improving safety on roads across Indian Country. I would like to thank Senators Inhofe and Boxer for their leadership on this important issue,” said Chairman Barrasso. “Tribes need the increased funding to address the significant backlog of road construction and maintenance projects. Such projects will help save the lives of those who travel across Indian Country and further contribute to the economic development and employment of Native Americans.”
The Senate-passed DRIVE Act also includes a reduction in the administrative fees that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) charges Indian tribes for road work and safety projects. Under the Senate-passed DRIVE Act, the BIA’s administrative fees are lowered from 6 percent to 5 percent. This reduction in fees was also part of the TIRES Act and will result in millions more road dollars for tribes.
These provisions were recommended by individual tribes and the Tribal Transportation Unity Caucus. The legislation will now advance to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Nationwide, just 17 percent of tribal roads were deemed acceptable by the BIA. According to the Federal Highway Administration, 70 percent of tribal roads remain unpaved, and 14 percent of bridges are structurally deficient. The Center for Disease Control lists motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death for Native American children.
On April 22, 2015, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held an oversight hearing on the issue titled: “Tribal Transportation: Pathways to Safer Roads in Indian Country.”