For the information of members on the Subcommittee and others, the purpose of the first hearing is to discuss changing transportation trends, both commercial traffic and personal travel habits, the anticipated funding requirements for our surface transportation system and the benefits our economy receives from our investments in transportation.
The Subcommittee's next hearing will be February 26th, where we will be pleased to have Secretary Slater present the Administration's proposal for ISTEA reauthorization.
I look forward to working closely with the Department to devise a bill that meets our shared goals of improving the mobility of all Americans.
We are well aware of the very significant challenges ahead of us in order to enact new legislation before ISTEA expires on September 30. Failing to do so will cause serious disruption in project construction and planning as no funds will be provided to states after October 1 until a new surface transportation law is enacted.
I am committed to meeting that deadline and will work to ensure that the Subcommittee reports legislation in a responsible time frame.
Certainly, an adequate level of federal funding available from the Highway Trust Fund in the next five years is critical to our reauthorization efforts.
We must find ways to begin to meet the significant financial demands identified by the Department of Transportation to maintain our highways and bridges at their current level.
I was pleased to work with Senator Baucus and other members of the Subcommittee on a letter to the Budget Committee requesting $26 billion in contract authority for this program. The support of 57 Senators indicates the strong bipartisan support for a healthy investment in our surface transportation program.
This level of funding can be supported by the revenues in the Highway Trust Fund without depleting the balances. It does not depend on transferring the 4.3 cents of the gas tax now going to the general fund or other additional revenues.
As the Highway Trust fund consists of taxes collected on the users of the system -- American drivers -- we must use this revenue to maintain our transportation system.
It is also evident that transportation is a sound investment for the American taxpayer. According to DOT, for every $1.00 invested, we receive an economic return of $2.60.
I am concerned that the funding levels proposed in the President's budget cannot meet the serious structural, safety and capacity demands we have today.
As the Subcommittee begins it's work to reauthorize ISTEA, I remain committed to a surface transportation system that:
- effectively moves people and goods; - provides for the safety of the traveling public; - fosters a healthy economy; and, - ensures a consistent level of performance and service among the fifty states.
These are national priorities that must be met.
Earlier this week, Senator Graham, a member of this Subcommittee, and I introduced the so-called STEP 21 bill.
This legislation responds to our need for a strong national transportation program.
STEP 21 is a regionally balanced, multimodal approach that will increase our nation's mobility, and permit American products to effectively compete in the global marketplace.
It recognizes that all regions of the nation have significant transportation needs.
It is a program that, for the first time, responds to our transportation demands using current needs information. This approach will address the inequities that have persisted in the funding formulas.
In doing so, we provide a program that acknowledges that sparsely populated states with large land areas or states with small populations cannot "go it alone."
As Important, STEP 21 does not retreat from the principles of ISTEA to provide a surface transportation program that is intermodal, responds to our environmental needs, and maintains our commitment to safety.
We continue the flexibility of state and local decision-makers to invest their resources in non-highway alternatives --such as transit or commuter rail.
We continue the important role of metropolitan planning organizations.
We recognize that a full and open planning process stimulates public participation -- which in turn fosters transportation solutions that respond to larger community goals.
We provide a program that is environmentally sound, recognizing that transportation plays an important part in our national commitment to improving the quality of the air we breathe.
STEP 21 also continues the Enhancements program that invests in alternative forms of transportation -- bike paths and pedestrian walkways -- and mitigates the impacts of past transportation choices.
With that brief description of my legislation, I want everyone to be clear, however, that I intend for the Subcommittee's work to be a collective process of ideas.
I look forward to working with all members of the Subcommittee, and particularly the Ranking Member, Senator Baucus to draft legislation that provides a surface transportation program that can respond to the demands of the next century.