Transportation issues are still one of the highest priorities in our community. The Federal Highway Program is critical, not only to the transportation system, but also to the economic well-being of Stillwater County. Interstate 90 bisects the county, and Highway 78 serves as a north-south arterial route. There are five other Federal-aid routes in the county, 14 major bridge structures and numerous smaller bridge structures, eight railroad crossings, and one designated Forest Highway Project.
Federal funding for the National Highway System under the current program has not been adequate to meet all of our transportation needs. For example, reconstruction projects for Highway 78 originally scheduled to begin over five years ago are still delayed. The Forest Highway 83 serving southern Stillwater County includes access to Custer National Forest and the Stillwater platinum/palladium mine. Fourteen miles of the total 20-mile reconstruction project have been completed. However, the remainder of this project has not been funded at this time.
The Stillwater mine produces platinum group metals and currently employs over 600 people and has an annual payroll around $25 million. This is the only platinum/palladium mine in the United States and competes in international markets with mines in Russia and South Africa. Platinum group metals are used for automotive pollution control, medical applications, in electronics, industrial processes and a variety of other applications, including national defense.
There are two other Federal-aid projects in our county which began over two years ago and still are not completed at this time. The Stillwater Road also serves southern Stillwater County and is an alternate route to the mining region. The first six miles of this route were paved in the 1970s. The remaining 14 miles are still gravel with no prospect of completion in the foreseeable future. The Joliet Road 421 was also started over 20 years ago as a Federal aid secondary project, but is still unfinished due to the lack of funding.
Bridges are also a significant problem in Stillwater County. We have had off-system bridges collapse in the past and have several bridges that are substandard. I brought a photo with me of one of the bridges that collapsed to document the problem. And this is clearly not the bridge to the 21st century that we envision.
Please accept this written testimony in support of the proposal for Surface Transportation Authorization and Regulatory Streamlining Act. We believe that the reauthorization of the Federal Highway Program should address following issues:
--Authorize program funding to the maximum level the Highway Account can sustain;
--achieve funding distribution that is fair and based on truly national interest, taking into account rural areas with large Federal land holdings and low population densities;
--emphasize investment in the National Highway System with continued Federal commitment for our highways;
--retain appropriate program emphasis areas, including enhancements and Federal lands program;
--reduce regulation to the greatest extent possible and eliminate unnecessary requirements; and finally,
--provide states flexibility and a role for local governments in transportation planning.
Thank you again, Senators, for this opportunity to comment on the reauthorization of the Federal Highway Program. We support the proposal for a Surface Transportation Authorization and Regulatory Streamlining to meet the transportation needs of Stillwater County into the next century. Thank you.