I am looking forward to hearing from today's witnesses. The topics we will discuss today are interesting, but somewhat complicated. So I look forward to hearing from all of the witnesses as they shed some light on transportation financing, research and development, and transportation technology.
Mr. Chairman, I realize we have a large number of witnesses, so I will be brief.
As this Committee continues its work towards the reauthorization of ISTEA, it is important to note that the issues we will discuss today will play a prominent role in the future of transportation in this country.
STATE INFRASTRUCTURE BANKS
In 1993, I introduced a bill to create State transportation revolving funds. The purpose of introducing that bill was to spur the discussion on the need for innovative ways to approach transportation financing. I recognized then that we must do all we can to "stretch" our limited Federal funds. I was met with some stiff resistance from the Department of Transportation and OMB at that time.
However, I am pleased that both parties have since come on board with the concept of innovative financing and in 1995, Congress created the State Infrastructure Bank program. I support this program. But we need to approach the future with some caution and be sure we are achieving our goals in the most efficient manner. And we need to recognize that not every State can utilize innovative financing techniques. Those States should not be penalized because of this.
I will examine the Administration's innovative financing proposals with an open mind, but a watchful eye.
Another way to "stretch" our federal funds and increase the safety and capacity of our current transportation system is the use of transportation technology.
This is quite an exciting field and the applications are endless. However, both GAO and CBO have criticized the current Intelligent Transportation System program. They have found it to be unfocused and in need of a long-term plan.
I agree with this. But included in that plan must be a recognition of the rural applications of ITS technology. Some may find it a strange concept to have rural applications of this technology. Most of us think of ITS technology as an urban only program.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Let me remind my colleagues of a few facts: 58% of all accident fatalities occur in rural areas and the emergency response time can be twice as long. Many Western States are working together to develop ITS technologies that could help us reduce those numbers. And there many are other applications.
However, the ability of these rural States to develop these technologies is dependent upon some ITS assistance from the DOT. Over the life of ISTEA, almost $1.3 billion has been available for ITS research and deployment. Less than 2 percent has been spent on rural applications of this technology. During reauthorization we must examine the balance between urban and rural areas and provide for a long-term rural ITS program.
And we need to ensure that other non-ITS research and development that the Department of Transportation pursues in the future has a focus and direction.
I realize that Congressional earmarks create some of the problems. These earmarks do not always reflect the wisest long-term use of research dollars. Perhaps if we provide a reasonable and sound strategy for research in the coming years, the urge to earmark may dissipate somewhat.
Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for holding this hearing and I look forward to hearing from today's witnesses.