We are pleased that Senator Chafee and Senator Warner accepted your invitation to come to Missouri to learn firsthand about the importance of transportation to our state. Of course, we very much appreciate and recognize your continuing role in leadership and the authorization of transportation legislation in this nation.
The St. Louis region with its central geographic location, it's a natural national as well as international transportation center. As we look at it from an economic development standpoint, we see a number of threads that are tied together with the kind of focus and objectives that NEXTEA is speaking to. Highways - they are the crossroads of four major interstates. Rail - major hub for rail for decades. We are the third largest in the United States. Air - we are the second fastest growing airport in the world in Lambert and the sixth overall busiest airport in the United States. Ports - we are the second largest inland port in the United States. In fact, one sixth of the tonnage moved on U.S. inland waterway systems goes through St. Louis. And transit - where MetroLink was recognized last year nationally as the best the transit system in North America.
A need exists for intermodal relationships between these transportation systems in St. Louis and throughout the country. There is also an inextricable link between infrastructure investment and sustained economic development.
The RCGA strongly advocates the importance of preserving the existing transportation infrastructure systems, as my colleague just testified, while at the same time addressing the necessity for certain new projects. In St. Louis, in addition to maintaining and rehabilitating or expanding the interstate highway network, we have a need for new bridges, especially a major one crossing the Mississippi River near downtown St. Louis. Thirty percent of the employees in downtown St. Louis live in Illinois and must cross bridges to work. It's a lifeline to our region.
In 1994, we created the greater St. Louis Economic Development Council to provide unified regional and proactive economic development with the goal of 100,000 new jobs in our region by the year 2000. I am pleased to support that we have already surpassed the 43,000 number on that goal, and we still have a number of years to go.
One of the Economic Development Council's key priorities is to capitalize on transportation and distribution infrastructure inherent to the St. Louis region and to encourage and promote much-needed major infrastructure investment, such as new bridges, the expansion of Lambert International Airport and the expansion of MetroLink, the transit system. The 1995 survey of national site selection executives for manufacturing companies rated "highway accessibility" as the No. 1 decision factor in choosing where to expand and relocate companies. A similar survey in the same year indicated for headquarters companies a functioning international airport being the No. 1 criteria.
With that in mind, last year the RCGA established an Infrastructure Council, headed by the St. Louis managing partner of Price Waterhouse, with eight committees chaired by top CEOs from the St. Louis business community. Their goal is to spearhead an economic development agenda in aviation, roads and bridges, transit, ports, freight, clean water, telecommunications and a public affairs program to support them.
These committees recently recommended their first round of specific action plans to the RCGA board just several weeks ago. For example, our freight committee in its examination of issues over the past year has pointed out a very graphic example of how vital it is to preserve the highway system and to eliminate major traffic bottlenecks as part of economic development.
It may come as somewhat of a surprise to our visiting Senators from Rhode Island and Virginia that next to Detroit, St. Louis is the secretary largest manufacturer of vehicles in the United States. General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, all have major plants in St. Louis employing over 11,000 people. These high-technology recently retooled manufacturing plants, like others in the auto industry, are relying increasingly on just-in-time delivery of parts from a growing number of local suppliers.
For example, at the Chrysler complex located on the southwestern edge of St. Louis in the metro area in Fenton, almost 1,900 minivans and pickup trucks are built every day. Local suppliers with only two hours turn-around deliver such components as frames, axles, tires, wheels, seats and fascias in the exact order of the vehicles on the assembly line.
I would like to also call attention to another RCGA infrastructure priority involved transportation. RCGA has staunchly and actively supported regional programs targeted at attainment of air quality standards. Yet U.S. EPA has unfortunately now proposed new National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone and Particulate Matter which will mitigate much of the progress achieved to date relative to the State Implementation Plan. Our business community and our civic leadership have been very active in our opposition to these new standards as some will, in all likelihood, jeopardize local highway projects threatened with the loss of Federal transportation funds. We propose that the provisions for air quality related to highway funding sanctions be removed from NEXTEA.
In closing, for the past several months for the past half year, I have had the privilege of being one of two representatives appointed by Missouri Governor Carnahan to the Southern Governors' Association Transportation Task Force.
Our positions locally and the positions of this task force which were recently released comported directly. And I will summarize in closing very briefly.
--No. 1, Spend down the cash balances in the Federal transportation trust funds.
--No. 2, if retained, the 4.3 cents per gallon Federal funds tax currently deposited in the general fund for deficit reduction should be redirected to transportation purposes.
--No. 3, guarantee all states a minimum of 95-percent return of their Highway Trust Fund contributions without a penalty for receiving demonstration project funding.
--No. 4, encourage the Federal Highway Administration to support greater public/private partnerships between State Departments of Transportation and the private sector as we have begun to do here in the State of Missouri.
--No. 5, projects to improve freight transportation should receive higher priority in the allocation of public funds and the development of potential sites for intermodal connections. And finally,
--No. 6, each State should be required to include the private sector exclusively in the state's metropolitan planning organizations either through chambers of commerce, economic development organizations or other designated business groups. In essence, forming a triangular partnership on behalf of regional transportation infrastructure between the State DOTs, local government and the private sector