Senator Tom Carper
January 24, 2002
Committee on Environment and Public Works
ďPartners for Americaís Transportation FutureĒ
Iím happy to be here today as this committee begins its work on the re-authorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21).† In the ten years since that bill, and its predecessor, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Act (ISTEA) have been in place, I believe we have made strides in the way we fund and plan for our transportation needs.†
ISTEA for the first time allowed state and local transportation officials to work together with their regional partners and with states to develop truly regional transportation systems.† It also allowed these new regional transportation entities and to use federal transportation dollars for the most pressing transportation projects in their region, regardless of whether those federal dollars were originally designated for highway or transit.† When ISTEA was up for re-authorization five years ago, I was Governor of Delaware and headed up a group called ISTEA Works along with John Rowland, my colleague from Connecticut.† Our goal at the time was to urge Congress to preserve and build on what we were able to accomplish in ISTEA.† Our efforts, along with the work of a number of my new colleagues here in Congress, lead to TEA-21, which maintained the flexibility granted to state and local officials and greatly expanded the funding available for transportation improvements each year.† Whereas, before TEA-21, Congressional appropriators could set caps on the amount of the Highway Trust Fund that could be spent in a given year, states can now spend the full amount that users pay into the Fund every year.
As we sit down now to re-evaluate our national transportation policy, I again call on my colleagues to build on what has worked so well in the past.† First, we should expand the flexibility built into ISTEA to allow states to spend their Trust Fund money on inter-city rail projects.† Back in Delaware, commuters set out every day on Interstate 95 in Wilmington to head for jobs in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington.† Commuters up and down the northeast corridor make similar commutes every day, tying up our highways in frustrating, wasteful gridlock.† Delaware can spend as much as it wants to improve its piece of 95.† It canít do much with its Trust Fund money to improve rail links to major northeast cities, however.† I hope we can work this year to allow states to use their federal Trust Fund dollars to create regional high-speed rail systems if they choose to do so.
Second, we should continue to improve the way we fund our transportation priorities and examine whether our current funding levels are adequate.† TEA-21ís budgetary firewalls, along with Revenue Aligned Budget Authority (RABA), have led to dramatic increases in transportation spending in recent years, but we could see reductions in 2003 for the first time.† I hope we can work this year to fix RABA and also to look for other revenue sources so that we can effectively fund our transportation needs.
As we begin to take a closer look at what has and hasnít worked in ISTEA and TEA-21 over the years, I think weíll see that most of what we were able to accomplish has had a positive impact on our nationís transportation system.† I hope we can build on that success in our re-authorization of TEA-21.†††††