STATEMENT OF SENATOR FRANK LAUTENBERG
EPW COMMITTEE HEARING
FLEXIBILITY AND ELIGIBILITY IN ISTEA
MARCH 13,1997

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. appreciate your allowing me to participate in this Subcommittee hearing.

I'm glad that the Subcommittee is holding this hearing on flexibility and eligibility in ISTEA. Because to me, that's what sound transportation policy is all about. ISTEA empowers states, communities, and local interests to have a real say in where their transportation dollars are allocated.

By giving them the flexibility to spend money on an expanded set of options, ISTEA allows each state, each region to tailor transportation spending decisions to fit their unique needs, while under the guidance of a national transportation framework.

If states and localities lose this flexibility, transportation decisions will revert back to satisfying special interests, rather than the public interest.

In my state of New Jersey, we have seen how ISTEA'S planning and flexibility provisions have benefited our communities and improved our quality of life.

While New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation, it also has vast open spaces and is trying to cope with suburban sprawl. It is a corridor state that must contend with extensive use of its interstates and more recently, with truck traffic and congestion on smaller roads that were not designed to bear the load. We have found that one size does not fit all.

In many parts of the state, we simply cannot build our way out of congestion. ISTEA's eligibility and flexibility provisions help us to cope with the ever expanding growth, both of our communities and with interstate and intrastate commerce.

We cannot turn the clock back on ISTEA's farsighted provisions. Instead, we must build upon them to provide even more flexibility and eligibility more transportation modes. We must ensure that all our options are maximized and balanced. Were not quite there.

I'm talking about Amtrak. We have a national transportation system with national goals and needs. No mode should have priority status. It is unconscionable that our national passenger rail system continues to be the forgotten step-child.

Unlike highways or transit, which are the annual beneficiaries of billions of dollars in infrastructure investment, Amtrak must year in, year out, justify its existence for a fraction of the subsidies that go to other transportation modes.

This is not a new issue: we must remember that flexibility for Amtrak has passed this Committee and the Senate in 1991; and again the Senate in an Appropriations bill. Six years later, we're fighting an old fight.

The United States has the most self-sufficient intercity passenger rail system in the world. Amtrak is directly responsible for reducing congestion on our roads -- resulting in improved mobility, highway safe and air quality and in our skies.

The subsidies we provide to Amtrak are less than what the taxpayers would have to pay to build more highway lane miles, or fund airport improvements or air traffic control -- all to accommodate the tremendous increase in traffic.

A few weeks ago, a panelist before this committee said that if Amtrak is abolished, there would be no measurable effect on the roads for the northeast corridor, particularly from Philadelphia to New York City. Because that route goes almost entirely through my state of New Jersey, I would like to respond.

Based on Amtrak ridership figures for that route, it is estimated that Amtrak takes 18,000 cars off the road every week day. The cost of constructing one additional highway lane for that route is an estimated $80-$100 million per mile.

Or, to look at it another way, if the Washington to New York route were eliminated, we would need 7,500 fully booked 757's in already congested airspace to accommodate those passengers. And, those costs would dwarf any subsidies to Amtrak.

Amtrak is a key element in our national transportation system. Even still, Amtrak is in dire economic straits because of the steady decline in annual funding. Last September, I watched while Congress chose to allocate fewer dollars for Amtrak, and then watched as Members objected when routes were cut. We cannot have it both ways.

We must provide Amtrak with a stable funding source so that it can glide its way to self sufficiency. Sen. Roth's bill to allocate one-half cent to Amtrak for five years is a sound approach, and one that I support. We must give Amtrak the tools to reach its goals, out from under the annual political flood lights. I look forward to working with all of you toward this end.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.