As this Committee moves forward to reauthorize the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 legislation, known to us all as "ICE TEA", I would like to express my strong support for reauthorization, with simplification and refinement, but without significant change.
I carry this message today wearing many hats. I speak not only as the Governor of Rhode Island, but also as the lead governor on the Transportation Committee for the Coalition of Northeastern Governors. Additionally, I am a founding member of the ISTEA Works Coalition. These coalitions represent regional and national perspectives and have spoken in unison, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Secretary. They all want a new ICE TEA that is much like the current legislation. A reauthorization with simplification and refinement, but without significant change. And I agree.
Passage of ISTEA represented a truly bipartisan effort and a revolutionary change from past transportation legislation. It signaled the completion of our Interstate system (although we have a local section of some concern that I will discuss in a minute) and looked toward addressing the new transportation issues and needs that would arise in the 90s. ISTEA was an important first step. We need to continue on this path.
Two example of such change included in ISTEA were the Transportation Enhancement Program, which sought to better integrate transportation projects into the surrounding community and the natural environment, and the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (or "See Mack") Program which funds transportation projects that will contribute to the attainment of air quality standards.
In Rhode Island, I am pleased to say that these programs have met with much success. The enhancement and CMAQ projects, by their very nature, have allowed us to develop a more balanced transportation system that better protects our environment and preserves our historic heritage. These programs should be continued.
Most importantly, the new public process of determining specific projects for funding has brought together groups that, in the past, may not have been considered partners in our overall transportation planning program. These partnerships have provided an opportunity for all parties to better understand the goals and objectives we share and the obstacles that must be overcome to achieve them.
These successes show that ISTEA works. Therefore, I am extremely concerned with several of the proposals that are under consideration in Washington for ISTEA reauthorization. For example, in the "STEP 21" legislative proposal, funding for states would be based almost solely on fuel taxes paid into the transportation fund by each state. Environmentally, socially, and economically, I do not understand why Congress would wish to reward fuel consumption and punish fuel conservation. Nor do the other Governors of the Northeast.
This philosophy would support increased single occupancy vehicle trips (SOVs) and denigrate efforts to improve transit. I do not believe, for a minute, that that is our goal. The Northeast continues to make great strides in increasing usage of our transit services. In fact, we do not have the luxury to consider any other course. Our infrastructure is already overburdened by heavy usage, weather and age. I am extremely hopeful that Congress will reject efforts to finance transportation by SOV levels alone and consider a more balanced program offering intermodal choices that will address our national transportation system needs and usage.
As mentioned in my opening, I am a member of various regional and national organizations who have unanimously endorsed ten ISTEA Reauthorization Principles which we believe represent essential provisions that will ensure equity, efficiency and adequate flexibility in reauthorization legislation. Please allow me to highlight these principles.
First and foremost, we believe it is imperative that Congress maintain the course set by ISTEA. This revolutionary legislation, while not perfect, recognized how interdependent the states' economies are and designed sound programs that benefit the nation as a whole.
Second, as stated before, ISTEA should be reauthorized with simplification and refinement, but without significant changes. State, regional and local governments have invested heavily in making ISTEA work. This investment should not be wasted.
Third, we support authorization of the maximum level of federal investment possible, over the life of the new bill, in our nation's multi-modal transportation systems. All sources of revenue that currently fund transportation should be maintained and maximized. Senator Chafee's recently proposed "Highway Trust Fund Integrity Act of 1997" is a sound compromise between deficit reduction and increased transportation funding. It deserves our support.
Fourth, the allocation of funds should be primarily based on needs. Adjustments to reflect system usage, system extent, level of effort, and each states' overall balance of federal payments and historic distribution patterns should be considered. In addition, discretionary funding programs must remain available to meet potential extraordinary and emergency needs that arise.
Fifth, we recognize the importance of and the need for the federal government's role as a key transportation partner to help fund highway, bridge and transit projects and to assure that a national focus remains on mobility, connectivity, uniformity, integrity, safety and research. Our nation's transportation programs should also continue to support related national goals such as improved air quality, economic competitiveness and improved quality of life.
Sixth, we need to preserve and strengthen the partnerships among federal, state and local governments and between the public and private sectors which were formed by ISTEA. Shared responsibility for national transportation interests, encouraging public participation in the planning process, building national coalitions and the promotion of environmentally friendly intermodal transportation projects must be provided for.
Seventh, the Reauthorization of ISTEA should continue programs and refrain from creating any new funding categories or set-a-sides. Due to the varying conditions and problems from state-to-state and mode-to-mode, it should also allow greater flexibility between programs and eligibility within programs.
Eighth, we support minimizing proscriptive federal regulations to allow for a more efficient and effective transportation program and eliminate federal/state duplication. Reauthorized ISTEA should continue to reduce time consuming federal reviews, onerous mandates and sanctions, and allow self-certification at the state level.
Ninth, state and local jurisdictions should be permitted to apply innovative financing solutions to address the growing transportation financing gap. States should be allowed to utilize their unobligated balances to guarantee bonds, enhance credit and capitalize state infrastructure banks. We should support continued opportunities for public/private cooperation. Senator Chafee has proposed legislation this year for such initiatives. We should get behind him on this idea.
Finally, we continue to support research, development and deployment of ways to improve quality and efficiency. This should include new intelligent technology such as ITS, a well as other new materials, designs and practices.
If these principles for a new ISTEA could be applied to Rhode Island in the years ahead we could take the good start that is working in the current ISTEA many steps further. With that in mind, I would like to take a brief moment and describe my vision for transportation in our state.
I see intermodalism, so often spoken about, flourishing in the Ocean State in the years ahead. Rhode Island requires an intermodal system that moves goods and people in and through our state. Let me list three primary examples; our plans for a new port, our expanded airport, and options for other travelers such as commuters.
The commercial port that is being developed at Quonset Point will need to provide intermodal choices for shippers and their goods. A third rail for freight traffic from Quonset Point is a critical part of my transportation vision. The voters of Rhode Island have agreed and work is underway to design and build this significant project.
New and expanded shipping service into Quonset will continue to grow in the years ahead. We will need to support this project with additional investment and other intermodal options in the years to come, such as an access road. This will reward us with strong returns as it provides the shipping community options for the movement of their goods.
Our airport passengers will also require choices for that facility to continue to flourish. Passenger traffic at the new T.F. Green terminal has been setting records. This is an excellent example of an investment which will show strong dividends to our state and the region. But what about intermodalism and connecting those passengers to their flights not only by cars but by a train station in Warwick? This option is only dreamed about by other airports. We have the Northeast Corridor running by the front door of T.F. Green. We should capitalize on such an asset.
Travelers and commuters also deserve choices. With an electrified high speed rail through the Northeast Corridor, our citizens will have meaningful choice in how to travel through our region while reducing congestion. Two and one half travel hours to New York City, roughly one half hour to Boston; these are milestones of a historic nature which are long overdue. We must continue to support intercity passenger rail.
The interstate system through Rhode Island will be in excellent condition when we finish the most recent round of repaving, with one major exception. The I-195 section through the downtown is requiring massive repair. After years of review the most logical solution is to relocate this roadway. This, Mr. Secretary, will require all of the creative energies we can muster to craft a financing plan. But we must succeed. By moving the roadway to the south we can dramatically improve safety, reduce air emissions, decrease congestion, and extend the valuable park land that has revitalized our Capital City.
Our local roads and bridges must be repaired and maintained. With scarce resources, we must be certain to work with all parties involved to best take care of what we have.
My vision also includes a strong transit system. RIPTA, under Beverly Scott's guidance, has continued to maintain service in the face of Federal operating assistance cuts. Unfortunately, if those cuts continue, service will suffer. This, I believe, is the wrong message to send at a time when transit must be available as an intermodal choice.
Finally, the most basic form of transportation, walking, must never be overlooked. Coupled with biking, these modes deserve our support. Rhode Island has undertaken a strong Greenways program and will be starting more bikepath projects in the next few years than ever before. It is only fitting that Senator Chafee was awarded national rails-to-trails recognition yesterday. As with many of these issues, without his support and leadership, the broadening of travel options for our citizens, the ability to manage our infrastructure assets, and the protection of our quality of life would have been nearly impossible.
These three primary examples of intermodalism in Rhode Island, Quonset, the airport, and other modes for travelers, do not stand alone. To have a successful transportation system requires seamless connections between these modes and choices for users. That is my vision.
In conclusion, I thank you for this opportunity to testify before you. The task of reauthorizing ISTEA will not be an easy one. However, we look forward to working with you to create a refined ISTEA program that will address our country's transportation needs into the next century. I would like to repeat my strong support for reauthorization of ISTEA with simplification and refinement, but without significant change.
Again, welcome to Secretary Slater, and thanks to Senator Chafee.