ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE
HEARING ON ADMINISTRATION'S ISTEA PROPOSAL
February 26, 1997
U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer

Today is an exciting day for me because I view the reauthorization of our surface transportation law as an absolutely critical part of our country's economic growth strategy. In California transportation is our life-blood. And I know that is true for many other states.

I look forward to working with my colleagues on this committee and with Secretary Slater to do what is best, and I truly believe what is best for California is really best for the entire country. Why do say that? Because California's economic future and America's economic future are tied to the efficient movement of goods and people both in and out of our country and across our country. We cannot be the economic leader of the world if grid lock wins the day. America's main ports are working at capacity. Expansions are planned or under way at every major airport, seaport and border point of entry in the state to meet the challenge of global economic competition. And we need to improve access to those ports by rail and highway.

That is why I am pleased to see that the Administration's next TEA plan focuses in part on enhancing trade movement with the Border Crossing and Trade Corridor Grant Program. The Administration is proposing to allow more highway spending for rail-related transportation facilities to enhance the movement of goods.

The plan is to expand the flexibility of states and local agencies to fund publicly-owned rail and rail-related passenger and freight projects, such as passenger rail terminals and transfer facilities for freight. These must demonstrate a public benefit such as improved air quality and reduced congestion.

The Administration also proposes a $100 million transportation credit enhancement program that will help fund nationally significant transportation projects.

The Alameda Transportation Corridor, serving the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is a perfect example. It will eliminate 200 rail and street intersections that tie up southeast Los Angeles and raise pollution from idling car emissions. There are similar projects needing assistance in California and other states.

I would like to see more assistance for our international border chokepoints. They should be checkpoints, but they are actually chokepoints. Providing safe and efficient trade corridors at our borders is a responsibility that was neglected when NAFTA passed. We must correct this in the Next TEA, and I will offer a plan for the committee's consideration.

In addition to slowing down trade, gridlock greatly impacts commuters. The annual Bay Area survey in San Francisco recently found a third of the residents cited transportation as the most vexing problem, surpassing crime as the region's chief worry.

Four of the 10 most congested urban areas in the country are in California - San Francisco, San Bernardino and Riverside counties, Los Angeles and San Diego - according to one congestion study released last year. Commuting times are slowing to a crawl. It's no surprise that Los Angeles tops the list of cities in the U.S. in terms of traffic delays. We lose productivity from our workers in these traffic snarls and we waste fuel, too.

Now is the time to strengthen our national transportation commitment. We need to fine-tune ISTEA, in ways that we can provide efficient transportation for commuters and freight. We should consider ways to streamline the permitting process for transportation projects, and we should adequately fund the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program which provides flexible spending on clean transportation alternatives.

We should also put a higher premium on maintenance. In California, maintenance and operations for highway and traffic is underfunded by about $1.5 billion a year, according to a private study. We all know that we pay a heavy price for neglect.

I look forward to a spirited discussion of all these issues.