I am pleased to be here in Warwick this morning to chair this important hearing on the reauthorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, better known as ISTEA. The Committee on Environment and Public Works, of which I am Chairman, has held hearings, both in Washington and all over the country, on this landmark legislation.
Today's hearing is special because it will give Rhode Islanders the opportunity to make the views known on ISTEA. We will hear from Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, Governor Almond, Director of Transportation William Ankner, and others.
I was proud to co-author the original ISTEA, which transformed what was once simply a highway program into a comprehensive national transportation system. ISTEA did this by providing the nation with the laudable goals of intermodalism, efficiency and flexibility. ISTEA also provided States and localities with tools to cope with the growing demands on our transportation system and the corresponding strain on our environment.
As you know, ISTEA is due for reauthorization later this year. The bill that ultimately becomes the new law must build on the original law's focus on intermodalism and efficiency, and it must maintain the ISTEA's emphasis on environmental protection, system preservation, and safety.
Along those lines, the United States Department of Transportation has preserved and built on the key goals of ISTEA in the reauthorization proposal submitted by President Clinton to Congress last month. Another bill introduced by Senator Moynihan and 31 other Senators last week also would continue the important legacy of ISTEA. I am delighted to have co-sponsored both of these measures.
Let me emphasize one point regarding the need for environmental protection in the new law. As the President said, when he announced the Department of Transportation's proposal, "Make no mistake about it, this is one of the most important pieces of environmental legislation that will be considered by the Congress in the next two years." I agree with the President that the new law must not retreat on ISTEA's commitment to environmental protection.
I must add, however, that the task before us is hardly a simple one. Regrettably, some would like to turn back the clock to the time when highways were the only game in town.An additional obstacle is the tendency to focus on one's own region or locality, while losing site of the larger national picture.
As we debate what the new ISTEA will look like, we also must keep in mind the diversity and uniqueness of the country and all of its transportation needs. And we must resist the temptation to set a national transportation policy based solely on our own region's particular demands.
I admit that transportation policy would be a lot simpler if it concerned only one or two factors. In the real world, however, transportation is but one part of a complex web of completing and often conflicting demands. The new law must address all of these demands by meeting the strong national interest and the diverse needs of States and localities.
You can be assured that I will strive to protect the strong federal commitment to a national transportation policy in the upcoming reauthorization. I will need your help in this effort. I look forward to working together over the coming months to ensure that the new law meets the needs of Rhode Islanders and all Americans alike.