TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE SUBCOMMITTEE HEARING
SAFETY AND BORDER INFRASTRUCTURE IN ISTEA
BY U.S. SEN. BARBARA BOXER
MAY 7, 1997

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I know we have a lot of witnesses here today but I just want to make a few remarks about the subjects of today's hearing which are very important to California.

Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to see that you set aside a separate hearing on safety issues. This is clearly an issue of the highest.

California's annual traffic fatalities have been fairly constant since 1991 at an average of 4,195 a year, which is still too many. California is one of only three states which have passed a zero tolerance for driving under the influence of alcohol, comprehensive child restraint and primary seat belt laws, and my state's alcohol-related deaths have declined by 17 percent over the past 5 years. However, the percentage of alcohol-related deaths and injuries on our highways is still just under the national average of 41 percent of all deaths and injuries.

Clearly, even the better states have room for improvement.

I am also concerned about railroad crossing fatalities. California unfortunately leads the nation in railroad trespassing fatalities involving pedestrians.

Another concern I have is how we balance the needs of highway truck traffic with those of automobiles. Let me add here that I do not believe that California needs triple-trailer, and I have written to Governor Wilson urging him not to pursue a demonstration of this longer combination vehicle. It will raise the risks for our other motorists in California.

One of our witnesses today, Mayor Bartlett of Monrovia, California, is going to speak about the pressure California is facing from the impact of the NAFTA trade agreement and the general increase in trade which has so helped my state recover from the recession of a few years ago.

I urge my colleagues to listen to his testimony because some of the statistics Mayor Bartlett will recite on the impact of freight movement in my state are astounding. This flood of trucks when combined with the overall increase in traffic is unprecedented. It is literally breaching our infrastructure.

This breach is best evident on the border. The Federal government has built new buildings for the ports of entry along the border, but it has not provided help to link these facilities to our national transportation system. Soon after NAFTA passed, we moved all commercial vehicle traffic from one of the largest land border crossings in the world at San Ysidro, where it links up with the interstate highway system, to Otay Mesa, which is served by a four-lane city street. The current traffic already is three times above this street's design standards. The truck traffic at 1.5 million a year now is expected to double in a decade. From 1990-1994, accident fatality rates for Otay Mesa Road were over 5 times higher than the average rate for state highways and have edged up slightly since then.

Meanwhile, the General Services Administration is designing a new facility at Tecate, in eastern San Diego County, but there is no Federal money to provide even adjacent intersection construction much less major traffic improvements. The rate of highway deaths on State Route 94 in this area is more than 6 times the statewide average on comparable highways. From 1993 to 1995, the 25-mile long route to the border has averaged 45 fatal and injury accidents a year.

In Calexico in Imperial County, trucks entering this port of entry which opened in February either must follow city streets past a school and shopping center to reach Interstate 8, or follow a two-lane country road that was constructed over 50 years ago and never designed for heavy commercial trucks.

Mr. Chairman, this is where NAFTA meets the road and the roads we have don't past the test. Our check points have become chokepoints. That is why I introduced the Border Infrastructure, Safety and Congestion Relief Act, which I urge my colleagues to consider as we reauthorize ISTEA.

Border infrastructure is a trade issue because without improved transportation efficiencies we hurt businesses and factories that keep their inventories low and rely on getting materials and goods delivered and sent as quickly as possible and not snarled in traffic tie-ups on narrow roads. Border infrastructure is a fairness issue because 25 percent of this commercial truck traffic originates or is destined for areas outside California.

And finally, border infrastructure is a safety issue because of the high incidence of accidents and fatalities in the region.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to end my remarks with a passage from the recently published assessment on NAFTA's impact on California from a group that is generally supportive of the trade agreement. According to the California State World Trade Commission:

"This commercial expansion has placed severe stress on the nation's underdeveloped southern border transportation infrastructure. The result has been bottlenecks and traffic jams at border crossings, safety hazards and declining environmental quality in the areas surrounding ports of entry....The current infrastructure conditions are not only unsafe, but are seriously impeding the flow of cross-border trade and hampering job creation in the border region."

I look forward to working with this committee as we address the border infrastructure needs of our country, and as we put together the best provisions to further the progress we have made on safety.