Senator Frank R. Lautenberg
EPW Hearing
November 4, 1997

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate your leadership in bringing this important issue before the Committee. Every state will be affected if there is no extension of authority for transportation funding.

We must enact a stopgap measure to provide the States with sufficient funding to meet their short-term transportation needs. ISTEA expired over a month ago, and although some States have carryover funding, other states are already struggling. Highway safety programs have been particularly hard hit. Mass transit programs, which have no excess authority, will grind to a halt. It would be irresponsible to adjourn for the year without taking action.

I first called for a temporary extension of current law, because it was clear even then, that Congress would not pass a multi-year authorization before we adjourned. A six month extension of current law is the easiest and fastest way to proceed, and is without political controversy because it will not involve a battle over radical restructuring of formulas. It provides the states with certainty. The House bill, which extends current law, is pending on the Senate calendar. I urge that we move it by unanimous consent today and send it to the President for his signature.

Failure to temporarily extend IS TEA will immediately cause all State transportation plans for new construction, maintenance, and repair activities and projects to cease. Without some form of reauthorization, transit agencies, metropolitan planning organizations, and local governments, safety programs, and, State planning and bidding activities would be immediately affected by the Federal funding shortages.

The situation is even more bleak for all the other programs authorized under ISTEA - the safety programs, Intelligent Transportation Systems program, all research programs, and, something very important to my state -- the Federal transit program. There are no left over, unobligated funds for these programs.

While transit is not under the jurisdiction of this committee, everybody here should know that, unlike the highway program, nearly all the excess contract authority for transit was rescinded earlier this year in the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act.

If there is no extension, transit agencies will have to defer new purchases of buses, rail cars, and other equipment, and transit project construction will be delayed, increasing overall costs. States will not be able to spend the $400 million provided in the FY98 Transportation Appropriations Act to purchase buses and construct bus facilities. States cannot touch the $800 million provided for the fixed guideway modernization program. The States also cannot take advantage of the $2.3 billion for the programs which provide capital funding for rural and urban areas, and for the elderly and handicapped.

Perhaps the most frightening risk posed by our failure to act is the safety of our constituents, as drunk driving prevention programs, truck and bus safety requirements, bridge inspections, and highway/rail crossing projects come to a halt. We could be endangering peoples' lives if we fail to simply enact a short-term extension of ISTEA. We must enact an extension, and relieve us of this crisis.