SENATOR ROBERT C. BYRD
Subcommittee on Transportation, Infrastructure, and Nuclear Safety
Committee on Environment and Public Works
United States Senate
September 30, 2002
Mr. Chairman, in just a few months time this Subcommittee will be responsible for reporting one of the most important, if not the most important, pieces of legislation for the 108th Congress. It is impossible to overstate the importance that I attach to the reauthorization of the Federal-aid Highway Program. This program is at the very core of the federal infrastructure investment exercise. As such, I am grateful to you, Mr. Chairman, for allowing me this opportunity to testify at this, the last hearing you will hold in the nation’s Capitol on the reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, or “TEA-21.”
Later this morning, you will also take testimony from our very capable Federal Highway Administrator, Ms. Mary Peters, on the condition and performance of our National Highway System. The Administration’s upcoming Conditions and Performance Report will again remind us that a great deal more needs to be invested in our infrastructure if we are not to fall further and further behind in stemming the deterioration of our nation’s highways and bridges and alleviating congestion on our nation’s roads. Administrator Peters will testify that, even in the wake of the historic funding increase accomplished through TEA-21, congestion on our roads continues to worsen. An investment in our highway infrastructure by all levels of government will have to increase by more than 65 percent or $42.2 billion per year to actually improve the condition of our nation’s highways. A funding increase of more than 17 percent or $11.3 billion will be necessary simply to maintain the current inadequate conditions of our highway network, where more than one in four of our nation’s bridges are classified as deficient. As Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I have sought to do my part by championing the highest level of federal highway investment that is possible under our budget constraints. As a member of the Appropriations Committee and the Transportation Subcommittee, you are well aware that the involvement of the Appropriations Committee has never been more critical than this year. The Transportation Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2003 as reported by my Committee back in July restores every penny of the $8.6 billion cut in highway funding proposed by President Bush. And I am pleased to say that every member of the Appropriations Committee voted to report that bill.
Mr. Chairman, one of the observations contained in Administrator Peters’ testimony that especially caught my eye is her statement that, “The condition of higher-order roads, such as Interstates, has improved considerably since 1993 while the condition on many lower-order roads has deteriorated.” It appears that the pattern of road conditions is beginning to mirror the distribution of wealth in our country, whereby the rich are getting richer while the poor get poorer. That observation leads me into my principal topic for my testimony this morning – the need to use this next highway bill to finally fulfill a promise that was made to one of the most impoverished and isolated regions of our country more than 35 years ago. We need to use this next highway bill to finally complete the Appalachian Development Highway System or “ADHS.”
Mr. Chairman, while serving in the other body, I had the great privilege of casting my vote in favor of establishing the Interstate Highway System back in 1958. However, in 1964 it was recognized by the first Appalachian Regional Commission that while the Interstate Highway System was slated to provide historic economic benefits to most of our nation, the system was designed to bypass the Appalachian Region due to the extremely high cost associated with building highways through Appalachia’s rugged topography. As a result, the construction of the interstates had the detrimental effect of drawing passengers and freight, and the accompanying economic benefits, away from the Appalachian Region.
In 1965, the Congress adopted the Appalachian Regional Development Act which promised a network of modern highways to connect the Appalachian Region to the rest of the nation’s highway network and, even more importantly, the rest of the nation’s economy. Absent the Appalachian Highway System, my region of the country would have been left solely with a transportation infrastructure of dangerous, narrow, winding roads which follow the path of river valleys and stream beds between mountains. These roads are still, more often than not, two-lane roads that are squeezed into very limited rights-of-way. They are characterized by low travel speeds and long travel distances and are often built to inadequate design standards.
Mr. Chairman, as you know well, we have virtually completed the construction of the Interstate Highway System and have moved on to many other important transportation goals. However, the people of my region are still waiting for the federal government to live up to its promise, made some 37 years ago, to complete the Appalachian Development Highway System. The system is still less than 80 percent complete and I regret to observe that my home State of West Virginia is below the average for the entire Appalachian Region with only 72 percent of its mileage complete and open to traffic.
Mr. Chairman, the rationale behind the completion of the Appalachian Development Highway System is no less sound today than it was in 1964. Unfortunately, there are still children in Appalachia who lack decent transportation routes to school; and there are still pregnant mothers, elderly citizens and others who lack timely road access to area hospitals. There are thousands upon thousands of people who cannot obtain sustainable well paying jobs because of poor road access to major employment centers. The entire status of the Appalachian Development Highway System is laid out in great detail in the Cost to Complete Report for 2002 just completed by the Appalachian Regional Commission this month. I would ask, Mr. Chairman, if this report could be made part of the Committee’s permanent hearing record. This is the most comprehensive report on the status of the Appalachian Development Highway System to date and I commend the staff of the Appalachian Regional Commission for their hard work on this report. The last report was completed in 1997 just prior to Congressional consideration of TEA-21.
The enactment of TEA-21 signaled a new day in the advancement of the Appalachian Development Highway System. Through the work of this Committee, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Administration, we took a great leap forward by authorizing direct contract authority from the Highway Trust Fund to the States for the construction of the ADHS. Up until that point, funding for the Appalachian Highway System had been limited to uncertain and inconsistent general fund appropriations. By providing the States of the Appalachian Region with a consistent and predictable source of funds to move forward on its uncompleted ADHS segments, TEA-21 served to reinvigorate our efforts to honor the promise made to the people of the Appalachian Region.
As is made clear in the Cost to Complete Report, this initiative has been a great success -- one for which this Committee can be very proud. States are making greater progress toward the completion of the system than they have in any five year segment in recent memory. Since the last Cost to Complete Report, 183 miles of the system have been opened to traffic and we have successfully bought down the cost to complete the system by roughly $1.7 billion in federal funds.
Back when we were debating TEA-21, some questions were asked as to how committed the States would be to completing the unfinished segments of the Appalachian Highway System. I’m pleased to report that the 13 States, to date, have succeeded in obligating just under 90 percent of the obligation authority that has been granted to them for the completion of the system. I think you will find, Mr. Chairman, that a 90 percent obligation rate compares quite favorable to some of the other programs through which the States were granted multiple years to obligate their funds.
TEA-21 apportioned $2.25 billion in contract authority to the Appalachian Highway System over the life of the reauthorization bill. However as I stated, over the period covered by that bill, we will have bought down roughly $1.7 billion of the cost to complete the system. I believe the difference in those two figures merits some explanation. The remaining federal funds needed to complete the ADHS are now estimated by the Appalachian Commission to be $4.467 billion.
The considerable cost in completing the last 20 percent of the system is explained by the fact that the easiest segments of the system to build have already been built. With the availability of the contract authority in TEA-21, the Appalachian States turned in earnest to designing some of their unfinished segments. That design process revealed cost growth that exceeded the roughly 20 percent cost growth that is attributable to the inflation index associated with highway construction. Much of the cost growth, it should be mentioned, is attributable to complying with other Federal laws, especially costs associated with environmental mitigation measures.
However, of critical importance is the fact that these unfinished segments represent some the most dangerous and most deficient roadways in our entire nation. One thing that is often lost in our debate over the necessity to invest in our highways is the issue of safety. The Federal Highway Administration has published reports indicating that substandard road conditions are a factor in 30 percent of all fatal highway accidents. I’m quite sure that the percentage is a great deal higher in the Appalachian Region.
The Federal Highway Administration found that upgrading two-lane roads to four-lane divided highways decreased fatal car accidents by 71 percent and that widening traffic lanes has served to reduce fatalities by 21 percent. These are precisely the kind of road improvements that are funded through the ADHS. In my State, the largest segment of unfinished Appalachian Highway, if completed, will replace the second most dangerous segment of roadway in my State. So, even those who would question the wisdom of completing these highways in the name of economic development should take a hard look at the fact that the people of rural Appalachia are taking their lives in their hands every day as they drive on their currently inadequate roads.
Mr. Chairman it is time for this Committee and the entire Congress, in concert with the Administration, to take the last great leap forward and authorize sufficient contract authority to finally complete the Appalachian Highway System. If you enact another six year highway bill with sufficient funds to complete the system, we will finally pay off the full costs of the ADHS almost 45 years after the system was first promised to the people of my region. When we convene the 108th Congress, it is my intention to introduce legislation which will be named the “Appalachian Development Highway System Completion Act”. That bill will provide sufficient contract authority to complete the system. Importantly, it will guarantee that the states of the Appalachian Region do not pay a penalty, either through the distribution of minimum allocation funds, or the distribution of obligation limitation, for receiving sufficient funds to complete the Appalachian system.
I’m very pleased that this Administration has taken on the goal of completing the ADHS. In her letter accompanying the Cost to Complete Report, Administrator Peters said “The completion of the ADHS is an important part of the mission of the Federal Highway Administration. We consider the accessibility, mobility and economic stimulation provided by the ADHS to be entirely consistent with the goals of our agency”. She goes on to say the Appalachian Regional Commission’s 2002 Cost to Complete Report “provides a sound basis for apportioning future funding to complete the system.” I thank Mary Peters and the entire Federal Highway Administration for their leadership on this issue and I look forward to seeing their commitment borne out in their reauthorization legislation which will be submitted next year.
Completion of a new highway bill will be a mammoth task for the 108th Congress. I can tell you, Mr. Chairman that over the many years of my public career, one of the accomplishments of which I am most proud was my amendment providing an additional $8 billion in funding to break the logjam during the debate on the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act in 1991. Another was my sponsorship of the Byrd, Gramm, Baucas, Warner Amendment during the Senate debate on TEA-21 in 1998. That effort resulted in some $26 billion in funding being added to that bill and put us on a path to historic funding increases for our nation’s highway infrastructure. I look forward again to working with this Committee on completion of a bill that makes the necessary investments in our nation’s highways, not just in the Appalachian Region, but across our entire country.
Thank you Mr. Chairman.