Senator Harry Reid
“The State of America’s Highway Infrastructure”
Monday,September 30, 2002
Good Morning. Welcome to today’s hearing on the state of America’s highway infrastructure. This is the last in a series of 14 scheduled hearings and roundtables that the EPW committee and this subcommittee have held this year as we prepare to write the next transportation bill. We have addressed many important policy issues, including traffic congestion, planning, safety, operations, air quality, freight and project delivery.
These hearings have made one thing clear – that transportation is central to our economic growth, global competitiveness, and quality of life. In 1956, under the leadership of President Eisenhower, the Federal government made a commitment to create an interstate highway system. We have since expanded that commitment to include the National Highway System and the broader Federal-aid highway network. This system has been an enormous success and now includes 46,000 miles of interstate highways and one million miles of Federal-aid highways. These roads serve as the lifeblood of our economy, moving people and freight trillions of miles each year.
Our nation’s road and bridge infrastructure includes 8.2 million lane miles of highway and 590,000 bridges, valued at $1.4 trillion dollars. Our task is to protect this investment and ensure that it continues to meet the needs of our nation’s communities and businesses. Potholed roadways, deficient bridges and congested interstates threaten safety, diminish quality of life and impede economic efficiency.
Today we will review two new reports on the status of America’s highway system. The Federal Highway Administration will present the findings of its 2002 Conditions and Performance report, and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials will unveil its Bottom Line report. These reports offer a mixed message. On the positive side, the increased investments provided by TEA-21 have begun to make a difference. Our infrastructure is in better shape today than it was a few years ago.
Unfortunately, while the condition of our transportation system has improved somewhat, its performance continues to worsen. The increasing congestion our nation’s roads are experiencing means dirty air, wasted fuel, lost time and reduced productivity. In addition, we continue to have a significant backlog of repairs that must be made to deficient bridges and inadequate roadways.
Both studies conclude that America is spending too little money to maintain the current conditions and performance of our transportation system, much less improve conditions and performance. The needs have outpaced funding, and unless we change this pattern we will fail to address the backlog of infrastructure needs and will continue to experience deteriorating performance.
I have seen this performance deterioration firsthand at home in Nevada. As the Las Vegas and Reno regions have grown, so has traffic congestion. Worsening congestion is one of the greatest threats to my state’s continued economic growth and we will have to do things differently if we are to reverse this trend.
As we will hear, the solutions range from improving the conditions of our roadways, to building new roads, expanding and improving transit service, employing new technology, enhancing the management and operations of our transportation systems, improving planning, creating high-speed rail connections, and managing demand.
We have our work cut out for us as we begin the reauthorization process. It is our responsibility to ensure that the transportation infrastructure of this country meets the needs of America’s citizens. I look forward to working closely with Chairman Jeffords and other members of this Committee to develop a forward-looking reauthorization bill that adequately addresses the many challenges our transportation system is facing.
We are honored to have as our first witness today the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Robert Byrd.
No one has been a greater champion for increased investment in transportation than Senator Byrd. He was a leader on TEA-21 five years ago, and he is a leader every year as the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee. Those of us who support increased investment in America’s transportation infrastructure are thankful for Senator Byrd’s continued leadership. I look forward to working with Senator Byrd as we write the next transportation bill and will count on his wisdom and experience as we work our way through this very difficult process.
Senator Byrd, please proceed.
Introduction of Panel II Witnesses
Our first witness in the next panel is Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters. This is her third appearance this year before this Subcommittee. She was our first witness at our first hearing of the year back in February and then was gracious enough to join me in Reno, Nevada for a field hearing on Western Transportation Issues in August. Mary, thank you for agreeing to join us again. I look forward to working with you very closely over the next year.
Our second witness will be Joseph Perkins, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. Commissioner Perkins wins the prize for the longest trip to testify before this subcommittee. Thank you very much for traveling to join us. We look forward to your testimony about the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ (AASHTO) Bottom Line Report.
Our third witness on the first panel will be JayEtta Hecker from the U.S. General Accounting Office. Ms. Hecker, thank you for being here. We appreciate all the good work that GAO has done, and continues to do, for this Committee in preparation for the next transportation bill.
Introduction of Panel Three Witnesses
Our first witness on our third and final panel is Gordon Proctor, Director of the Ohio Department of Transportation.
Our second witness is Thomas Jackson, President-Elect of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
And our final witness is Dr. William Buechner, Vice President of the American Road and Transportation Builders’ Association.
Welcome to all of you. I appreciate your appearance today and your contribution to our hearing record. Mr. Proctor, please proceed.