A six-year highway bill would "vanquish the specter of uncertainty" that haunts roads projects across the country, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Wednesday during a visit to Lincoln.
Foxx came to Nebraska as a guest of Sen. Deb Fischer, and the two have pushed lawmakers to work together on a long-term highway bill when Congress returns to Washington in September.
The Senate passed its own six-year highway bill on July 30, but Congress has only approved a three-month stopgap measure — the 34th since 2009.
Meanwhile, states are caught in a "cycle of short-term extensions," Foxx said from the parking lot of Frontier Harley-Davidson, which overlooks the future site of Nebraska's first diverging diamond interchange, on Interstate 80 at Northwest 48th Street.
Work on the interchange coincides with widening I-80 to six lanes from Omaha to west of Lincoln. Both projects should be complete by fall 2016.
"We need to be executing more projects like this," Foxx said.
The $350 billion bill the Senate passed last month would fund federal highway and infrastructure projects for three years and give senators until 2018 to determine how to pay for the full six years.
The Obama administration had pushed for its own $478 billion highway bill in the spring, which would have boosted federal transportation spending by about $30 billion a year.
Foxx said Wednesday he was pleased Fischer supported the Senate bill, and that asking if he would have preferred the administration's bill is "like asking a college professor if he or she is satisfied with the number of books in their library."
The U.S. transportation system "needs to remain in top condition" to compete globally, Fischer and Foxx wrote in a column that appeared in Wednesday's Journal Star.
"Think about the folks that invested in the interstate highway system in the 1950s that we use today," Foxx said at the event. "Think about the folks that invested in the Transcontinental Railroad.
"This is what America does, and we've got to get back in the business."
Foxx and Fischer's comments to media followed a roundtable discussion with Nebraska transportation leaders at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Whittier Research Center. The Whittier building is home to the Nebraska Transportation Center, which helps industry and government leaders collaborate with university researchers.
The pair also visited the diverging diamond project site.
Foxx said the goal of his visit was to listen to people here and "to let the transportation community know that we've still got a fight on our hands and we need to keep working back in Washington to move the dial."
"I love working with Sen. Fischer because we both try to solve problems," Foxx said. "We both work together very well."
"We can work together," said Fischer, who is chairman of the Senate subcommittee that deals with surface transportation. "We're getting things accomplished. This is a big deal to get a six-year highway bill passed.
"This is a very big deal, and I want Nebraskans to know that. I want Americans to know that."