We Can’t Wait: Obama Administration Announces Four Surface Transportation Projects to Be Expedited
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, as part of his We Can’t Wait initiative, President Obama announced that four nationally and regionally significant surface transportation projects will be expedited to put Americans to work replacing aging infrastructure and improving the reliability and resiliency of critical highway, transit and rail systems in Maine, North Dakota, Oregon and Washington State.
These projects will improve connectivity across the regions – both rural and urban – providing for the safe and efficient movement of people, goods and services. Coordination among agencies will save between several months to more than a year on these projects.
As part of a Presidential Executive Order issued in March of this year, the Office of Management and Budget is charged with overseeing a government-wide effort to make the permitting and review process for infrastructure projects more efficient and effective, saving time while driving better outcomes for local communities. The Administration’s efforts to continuously add more transparency, accountability, and certainty into the permitting and review process will enable project developers and private investors to more efficiently modernize our nation’s infrastructure.
Additional expedited infrastructure projects will be announced in the coming weeks. “Across the country our investments in infrastructure are putting people back to work building and modernizing our transit systems, railroads, bridges and highways,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “The Administration is committed to doing its part to help communities across the country move forward with these critical projects as quickly and efficiently as possible.
”Kennebec Bridge Replacement ProjectState: MaineCoordinating Agency: Department of Transportation, Federal Highway AdministrationTarget date for completing Federal permit and review decisions: February 2013
This $25 million project will leverage TIGER funds to replace an 80 year-old movable bridge at the end of its service life with a high-level fixed bridge that will maintain this critical transportation link across the Kennebec River in Maine. This bridge, which carries State Route 197 between Richmond and Dresden, will be built to accommodate the U.S. Coast Guard vessel for ice breaking. Expediting the Section 106 process to allow archaeological data recovery on the Fort Richmond archaeological site while other environmental consultations are being completed is estimated to save up to a year.
Devils LakeState: North DakotaCoordinating Agency: Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration
Target date for completing Federal permit and review decisions: Winter 2012; Construction expected Summer 2013 The Devils Lake Rail Improvements project will raise the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) rail line to address the rising level of Devils Lake and ensure the line remains open to passenger and freight traffic.
The Project, which received a $10 million TIGER III (2011) grant for phased infrastructure improvements as part of an overall $100 million program, will allow Amtrak’s operating speeds to increase, improve long‐term reliability and lower maintenance costs for both passenger and freight rail. The rail line connects rural communities in North Dakota, Montana, and eastern Washington to larger urban centers with essential services in an area where extreme weather conditions frequently close roads and airports.
The project is an example of recovery efforts in the Devils Lake area and involves extensive coordination between the North Dakota Department of Transportation, BNSF, US Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Railroad Administration to ensure timely permitting and environmental approval processes. Through careful engineering and planning, the rail improvements will be constructed with little to no environmental impact, and all work will be completed within existing BNSF right‐of‐way.
Columbia River Crossing
State: Oregon and WashingtonCoordinating Agency: Department of Transportation, Federal Highway AdministrationTarget date for completing Federal permit and review decisions: August 2015
This $3.5 billion Columbia River Crossing project will replace the I-5 bridges over the Columbia River connecting Vancouver, WA to Portland, OR and also extend an existing light rail system, making a long sought after rail transit link between Portland and Vancouver finally possible. The project also includes the reconstruction of highway interchanges, improved freight access, the procurement of light rail vehicles, and the construction of park-and-ride spaces. It is a multimodal project focused on increasing mobility of motorists, freight traffic, transit riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
The project is a long-term, comprehensive solution funded jointly by the Federal Highway and Federal Transit Administrations and state and local sources to improve safety and relieve highway and freight congestion problems throughout the region. A renewed effort of interagency coordination to resolve complex issues and define a clear path forward has resulted in a transparent and predictable schedule to complete the permitting and review process.
This work builds on previous efforts to enhance coordination between agencies from two states and among federal agencies to develop an effective approach for coordination and streamlining. Point Defiance BypassState: WashingtonCoordinating Agency: Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration.
Target date for completing Federal permit and review decisions: December 2012
The $89 million Point Defiance Bypass Project is part of the larger Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor (PNWRC). The purpose of the Point Defiance Bypass Project is to provide more frequent and reliable high-speed intercity passenger rail service between Seattle and Tacoma to points south. The project will reroute passenger trains to an existing rail line along the west side of I-5 through south Tacoma, Lakewood, and DuPont. Passenger trains, including Amtrak Cascades, currently must slow down due to curves and single-track tunnels on the BNSF Railway main line tracks near Point Defiance and along southern Puget Sound.
This project, with extensive regional benefits, is key to providing more competitive intercity passenger rail service between Seattle, WA and Portland, OR. This project is the result of intensive public and stakeholder involvement, so that any community concerns can be identified and resolved ahead of time to avoid later delays. Outreach to the community and other agencies has been rigorous and is ongoing.
In an effort to reduce the overall environmental impacts of the Project, the preliminary design calls for the use of an existing transportation corridor and associated infrastructure, rather than the creation of a new corridor, allowing for the use of an Environmental Assessment instead of a possible Environmental Impact Statement, potentially saving multiple months of environmental review.
Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Announces New Drought Assistance, Designates an Additional 218 Counties as Primary Natural Disaster Areas
Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Announces New Drought Assistance, Designates an Additional 218 Counties as Primary Natural Disaster Areas
Nearly 4 Million Acres of Land Open to Haying and Grazing; Obama Administration-wide drought response continues
WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2012—Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced two new pieces of disaster assistance for farmers and ranchers impacted by the nation’s worsening drought. First, Vilsack is expanding emergency haying and grazing on approximately 3.8 million acres of conservation land to bring greater relief to livestock producers dealing with shortages of hay and pastureland. Second, the Secretary announced that crop insurance companies have agreed to provide a short grace period for farmers on insurance premiums in 2012. As a result, farming families now have an extra 30 days to make payments without incurring interest penalties on unpaid premiums.
Earlier in the day, Vilsack signed disaster designations for an additional 218 counties in 12 states as primary natural disaster areas due to damage and losses caused by drought and excessive heat. Counties designated today are in the states of Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyoming. More than half (50.3 percent) of all counties in the United States have been designated disaster areas by USDA in 2012, mainly due to drought.”President Obama and I will continue to take swift action to get help to America’s farmers and ranchers through this difficult time,” said Vilsack. “The assistance announced today will help U.S. livestock producers dealing with climbing feed prices, critical shortages of hay and deteriorating pasturelands. Responding to my request, crop insurance companies indicated that producers can forgo interest penalties to help our nation’s farm families struggling with cash flow challenges.
The Obama Administration intends to continue helping those who farm or ranch and live and work in rural America through this period of hardship.”Emergency Haying and GrazingIn response to the expanding drought, Secretary Vilsack today announced that livestock producers and other participants in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) will now be able to hay and graze acres that have been ineligible in the past. Many of these additional acres have wetland-related characteristics and are likely to contain better quality hay and forage than on other CRP acres. There are approximately 3.8 million acres that will now be eligible for emergency haying and grazing, subject to certain conditions. Haying and grazing may only occur under strict compliance rules to help minimize impacts on these sensitive specialty practices.
In addition, USDA will conduct follow-up monitoring and evaluation of these opened CRP areas to study the effects of the drought and USDA’s emergency haying and grazing actions. Producers should contact their local Farm Service Agency offices for additional information.Federal Crop InsuranceSecretary Vilsack announced today that crop insurance companies have agreed to provide a short grace period for farmers on insurance premiums in 2012. To help producers who may have cash flow problems due to natural disasters, Secretary Vilsack sent a letter to crop insurance companies asking them to voluntarily defer the accrual of any interest on unpaid spring crop premiums by producers until November 1, 2012.
In turn, to assist the crop insurance companies, USDA will not require crop insurance companies to pay uncollected producer premiums until one month later.During the 2012 crop year, USDA has designated 1,584 unduplicated counties across 32 states as disaster areas—1,452 due to drought—making all qualified farm operators in the areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans. The U.S. Drought Monitor indicates that 66 percent of the nation’s hay acreage is in an area experiencing drought, while approximately 73 percent of the nation’s cattle acreage is in an area experiencing drought. During the week ending July 29, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service reported that U.S. soybeans rated 37 percent very poor to poor, matching the lowest conditions observed during the drought of 1988. NASS also reported that 48 percent of the U.S. corn crop was rated very poor to poor, while 57 percent of the nation’s pastures and rangeland are rated very poor or poor condition.
Last week, President Obama met with Secretary Vilsack and members of his Cabinet to discuss additional steps the Administration could take to help farmers, ranchers and business owners manage and recover from the current drought. Later in the week, President Obama directed Secretary Vilsack to convene a meeting of the White House Rural Council to update members and stakeholders on the Administration response to the drought. Vilsack will update Rural Council members and stakeholders again next week on new steps taken by the Administration to combat the drought.Under Secretary Vilsack’s leadership, USDA has announced a variety of steps to get assistance to producers impacted by the worsening drought, including:Allowing additional acres under CRP to be used for emergency haying or grazing.
The action allows lands that are not yet classified as “under severe drought” but that are “abnormally dry” to be used for haying and grazing. Allowing producers to modify current Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) contracts to allow for grazing, livestock watering, and other conservation activities to address drought conditions.Authorizing haying and grazing of Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) easement areas in drought-affected areas where haying and grazing is consistent with conservation of wildlife habitat and wetlands. USDA has expedited its authorization process for this haying and grazing. Encouraging crop insurance companies to provide a short grace period for farmers on unpaid insurance premiums, as some farming families can be expected to struggle to make ends meet at the close of the crop year.Reducing the emergency loan interest rate from 3.75 percent to 2.25 percent.
Lowering the reduction in the annual rental payment to producers on CRP acres used for emergency haying or grazing from 25 percent to 10 percent in 2012. Simplifying the Secretarial disaster designation process and reduced the time it takes to designate counties affected by disasters by 40 percent. USDA agencies have been working for weeks with state and local officials, as well as individuals, businesses, farmers and ranchers, as they begin the process of helping to get people back on their feet.
The U.S. Small Business Administration has also made 63 agency declarations in 33 states covering 1,675 counties, providing a pathway for those affected to apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). SBA’s EIDLs are available to small, non-farm businesses and small agricultural cooperatives that are economically affected by the drought in their community.Also today, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will convene a call with states to listen and discuss the ways in which U.S. DOT can work with Governors and State Departments of Transportation to help communities impacted by the drought. Secretary LaHood will be joined by both Anne Ferro, Administrator of the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration and Greg Nadeau, Deputy Administrator for the Federal Highways Administration.
The Obama Administration, with Agriculture Secretary Vilsack’s leadership, has worked tirelessly to strengthen rural America, maintain a strong farm safety net, and create opportunities for America’s farmers and ranchers. U.S. agriculture is currently experiencing one of its most productive periods in American history thanks to the productivity, resiliency, and resourcefulness of our producers. A strong farm safety net is important to sustain the success of American agriculture. USDA’s crop insurance program currently insures 264 million acres, 1.14 million policies, and $110 billion worth of liability on about 500,000 farms. In response to tighter financial markets, USDA has expanded the availability of farm credit, helping struggling farmers refinance loans. In the past 3 years, USDA provided 103,000 loans to family farmers totaling $14.6 billion. Over 50 percent of the loans went to beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write to USDA, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Stop 9410, Washington, DC 20250-9410, or call toll-free at (866) 632-9992 (English) or (800) 877-8339 (TDD) or (866) 377-8642 (English Federal-relay) or (800) 845-6136 (Spanish Federal-relay). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.
Statement by the Press Secretary on Additional $12 Million in U.S. Humanitarian Assistance to Syria
Today, on behalf of the American people, the President approved an additional $12 million in U.S. humanitarian assistance to support those most affected by the crisis in Syria. After nearly 17 months of conflict, the humanitarian situation is dire and rapidly deteriorating. The United Nations estimates that over 1.5 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance, over 1 million people are internally displaced, and more than 130,000 people have sought refuge in neighboring countries. With these additional funds, the United States is now providing over $76 million in assistance for food, water, medical supplies, clothing, hygiene kits, and other humanitarian relief to those most urgently in need.
The United States applauds the generosity of Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and others who are hosting and providing assistance to refugees fleeing the horrific atrocities perpetrated by Bashar al-Asad’s regime. Syria’s neighbors, along with the United Nations and international and local non-governmental organizations, are delivering humanitarian aid wherever possible within Syria and in the region. Our additional assistance will help their efforts to provide lifesaving assistance and reduce human suffering. As a leading provider of humanitarian relief to those affected by the crisis in Syria, the United States urges all countries around the world to contribute to the United Nations Syria humanitarian appeal.
We also call on all parties to ensure the safety of civilians and aid workers, and the safe and unimpeded delivery of relief supplies to those in need. The quickest way to end the bloodshed and suffering of the Syrian people is for Bashar al-Asad to recognize that the Syrian people will not allow him to continue in power, and to step aside to enable a peaceful political transition to a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Syrian people. We call on all members of the international community to support a political transition in Syria, and we will continue to work with the opposition and our allies and partners to support an inclusive transition that guarantees the Syrian people their universal rights.
Statement by the Press Secretary on Cybersecurity Legislation Vote
Today, despite the strong leadership of Senators Reid, Lieberman, Collins, Rockefeller and Feinstein, an overwhelming majority of Senate Republicans blocked consideration of the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, the only comprehensive piece of cybersecurity legislation that would have begun to address vulnerabilities in the nation’s critical infrastructure systems. Senate Republican opposition to this vital national security bill, coupled with the deeply-flawed House information sharing bill that threatens personal privacy while doing nothing to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure, is a profound disappointment. The Administration sent Congress a legislative package in May 2011 that included the new tools needed by our homeland security, law enforcement, intelligence, military and private sector professionals to secure the nation, while including essential safeguards to preserve the privacy rights and civil liberties of our citizens. Since that time, Administration officials have testified at 17 hearings on cybersecurity legislation and presented over 100 briefings, including two all-Member Senate briefings and one all-Member House briefing. Despite the President’s repeated calls for Congress to act on this legislation, and despite pleas from numerous senior national security officials from this Administration and the Bush Administration, the politics of obstructionism, driven by special interest groups seeking to avoid accountability, prevented Congress from passing legislation to better protect our nation from potentially catastrophic cyber-attacks.