Fort Report: Infrastructure
From the interstate highway system to the Erie Canal, the transcontinental railroad to the Hoover Dam, infrastructure projects have transformed our nation, lifted our spirits, and caused the world to marvel at the incredible ingenuity of America. As your representative, it is my duty to ensure that the guardrails of community, prosperity, health, and security are maintained. Robust, reliable, innovative, cost-effective, and often aesthetically breathtaking infrastructure plays a critical role in achieving these ends.
Our government recently initiated some necessary infrastructure projects that directly affect Nebraska. After a long process, including intense interactions with various heads of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) across several administrations, I’m happy to report that Lincoln’s historic VA campus has been chosen as the location for a new state-of-the art VA clinic. This is an important victory for the economic regeneration of a unique historic property. It arrives subsequent to a similarly successful public-private partnership to expand, improve, and innovate at the Omaha VA Medical Center. Nebraska continues to lead the nation with creative public-private partnerships to assist our veterans.
As a critical part of our national defense infrastructure, the Air Force’s 55th Wing conducts surveillance, intelligence, reconnaissance, and United States Strategic Command cyber missions from the Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue. Among its several dozen airplanes is the OC-135B, which fly in critical support of the Open Skies Treaty, a 34-member global agreement that enables unarmed observation of signatory compliance with international nuclear arms agreements, particularly that of the Russian Federation. To ensure continued successful oversight of treaty compliance, I recently joined with members of the Nebraska Congressional delegation to secure funding for the OC-135B Aircraft Replacement Program as part of the 2019 Defense Appropriations Act. One plane is funded for 2019; another will be funded in 2020. The replacement of these aircraft is vital to our national defense strategy. Their advanced age and maintenance issues had impacted the Air Force’s ability to fully execute the mission of the Open Skies Treaty—one of the last remaining functional arms control regimes between the U.S. and the Russian Federation.
On the heels of a new headquarters for United States Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base, work is also underway to repair the Offutt runway. As part of this effort, the Lincoln Airport will soon begin infrastructure improvements to pave the way for intelligence-gathering aircraft from the Air Force’s 55th Wing while the Offutt runway is rebuilt. Along with other improvements, the Lincoln Airport’s maintenance hangar will be expanded to accommodate the larger military aircraft. Once the Offutt runway project is completed in December, 2020, the improved facilities will be returned to the Lincoln Airport for its ongoing use.
Other recent infrastructure accomplishments concern civilian aviation. Late last week, the President signed into law the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act, which the House passed late last month. The bill authorized funding for the FAA for five years and makes several changes designed to help airline passengers. This is a big bill, but even small things can matter in it. The community of Columbus brought to my attention a particularly local problem. And we offered an amendment that allowed the Columbus Airport to use their fair share of federal funding to fix something that seems silly: Snow removal equipment bought with local funds could not be housed in federally financed facilities. Now the Columbus Airport has access to funding for a new, much larger storage facility.
One of the more colorful characters in our nation, Elon Musk, who sort of runs Tesla I guess, and has all kinds of other Iron Man visions for the world, spends a lot of sleepless nights dreaming about the future of infrastructure. In the meantime, as Mr. Musk figures out a way to get us to the moon, let’s make sure the everyday stuff works well on earth.