This session of Congress will likely include extensive consideration of not only how we finance our national infrastructure but also what our transportation policies should aim for as we head into the 21st century.
With the completion of the interstate highway system, it is vital that we turn our attention to designing multi-modal transportation policies that will allow us to not only maintain the excellent infrastructure we have, but also to move forward to meet the demands of the new century.
In many ways, the transportation issues of the future will be vastly more difficult than the ones of yesterday. We live in an increasingly diverse nation, one that is no longer able to be solely dependent upon the automobile. Even in a state as vast as Nevada, a bridge state where we desperately need more roads, we are also seriously looking at the role monorails and MagLev can play in our future transportation infrastructure. These solutions will require all of the innovative and creative thinking we can muster at the federal, state, regional, and local levels.
Today's hearing is important. Now that the Administration has unveiled its NEXTEA proposal, the members of this Committee are that much closer to making the vital determinations of how much flexibility to provide for the next six years; that much closer to deciding what activities are eligible for funding under the federal program.
Although I disagree strongly with the Administration over the level of funding they are proposing, I agree with the approach that we should be building on the successes of ISTEA (and the handful of failures) rather than marching off in a completely new direction.
We no longer live in an era of limitless budgets, even for something as vital to our future competitiveness as transportation. We must be smart and strategic in how we move forward. This program is, appropriately enough, a federal program. All of us will be judged on its success or failure. We must not lose sight of the notion that program eligibility and the ultimate level of flexibility in implementation are the most critical elements of this package (aside from the money, of course).
Don't get me wrong: more money is certainly part of the solution. While I fully support maximizing the impact of all the dollars we invest in our nation's infrastructure and transportation systems -- in fact I view it as an obligation of the public trust we are sent here to uphold -- I also support maximizing the dollars we have available to maximize.
I join with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in saying that the dollar amounts being put forth by the Administration are simply not adequate. The fuels taxes paid into the highway trust fund each year will support significantly higher spending on transportation and that is what we should be doing with the money.
As you know, I introduced legislation last month to take the Highway Trust Fund off-budget to ensure that the American taxpayers are getting what they pay for when the gas tax is collected. This is another aspect of the public trust that I take very seriously. The tax was paid into the trust fund for transportation projects and that it what it should be used for every year and that is all it should be used for.
Our nation's infrastructure represents the lifeline that fuels our economy. When we neglect to adequately provide for the health of this lifeline all of us suffer. Whether its unsafe and degraded roads or pollution caused from over congestion, all of us are affected. The price is not only the inconvenience of traversing a dilapidated infrastructure. Indeed, the real price is the increased costs all of us pay for goods and services because of the burdens placed on a steady flow of the stream of commerce. It's similar to cholesterol build up in the arteries -- eventually there is a steep price to pay.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.