STATEMENT OF SENATOR GEORGE V. VOINOVICH
SUBCOMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE
COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
STATE OF INFRASTRUCTURE
SEPTEMBER 30, 2002
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for conducting this hearing today on the state of our nation’s infrastructure.
I would especially like to welcome Gordon Proctor, Director of the Ohio Department of Transportation, who is here to testify on Ohio’s transportation needs, particularly those of the state’s aging interstate highway system.
Mr. Chairman, as the infrastructure built in the 19th and 20th Centuries reaches the end of its useful life, we are now faced with the question of how to fulfill current requirements and make improvements to our infrastructure that will best serve our nation in the 21st Century.
While progress has been made at the federal, state, and local levels to acknowledge and begin to address public infrastructure needs, major areas are still not being addressed, such as large capital investments and operations and maintenance. I recognize that simply devoting more federal money to infrastructure needs is not the solution. Rather, a strategy must be developed to address the full range of short- and long-term issues, including appropriate federal and state roles, adequate project evaluation, priority- setting, program efficiency and management.
The first step in developing a coherent and comprehensive national infrastructure strategy is an assessment of our nation's unmet infrastructure needs. I realize that even the concept of "unmet needs" is difficult to define and that every federal agency may define the term differently. That is why, as Chairman of this Subcommittee in 2000, I asked the General Accounting Office (GAO) to conduct a survey of unmet needs in the major public infrastructure areas which receive federal assistance, including highways and mass transit.
Consequently, in July 2001, the GAO released its report, U.S. Infrastructure: Agencies' Approaches to Developing Investment Estimates Vary. In the report, the GAO provided a survey of seven federal agencies' estimates for infrastructure investment. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), for example, estimated that $50.8 billion per year over 20 years would be needed just to maintain the current physical condition of the nation’s highways and bridges. In addition, an investment of $83.4 billion per year over 20 years would be needed to improve the infrastructure.
The GAO also reported that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) estimates the average cost to meet the nation’s mass transit needs is as high as $16 billion per year for 20 years.
I understand FHWA Administrator Mary Peters and other witnesses this morning will present updated needs estimates for our highways and transit systems.
In addition, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) recently completed its Cost to Complete Report for the Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS), a 3,025 mile system of highways that is designed to bring economic development to Appalachia. According to the Report, the estimated cost to complete the ADHS (combined federal and state cost) is $8.5 billion. Thanks to TEA-21, which authorized $2.25 billion for the construction of the ADHS, the remaining federal funds needed from Congress to complete the ADHS are $4.5 billion, $1.7 billion less than was needed in 1997. I look forward to addressing the ADHS’ funding needs in next year’s highway bill.
It is no secret that this nation has an aging transportation infrastructure. If we continue to ignore the upkeep, and allow the deterioration of our infrastructure, we risk disruptions in commerce and reduced protection for public safety, health, and the environment. In my view, it is the responsibility of Congress to ensure that funding levels are adequate and efficiently allocated to our nation’s priority needs.
I strongly believe that Congress and the Administration need to develop a strategy to address the backlog of unmet infrastructure needs in this country, and ascertain the federal role in responding to this backlog.
In 1998 Congress recognized the importance of our nation’s transportation system through the enactment of the six-year Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), which increased by nearly 40 percent federal investment in highways and transit.
As Chairman of the National Governors Association, I was involved in negotiating TEA-21 and lobbied Congress to ensure that all Highway Trust Fund revenues were spent on transportation. I also fought to even out highway funding fluctuations and assure a predictable flow of funding to the states. TEA-21 achieved this goal with record, guaranteed levels of funding. However, more recently, as evidenced by this year’s negative Revenue Aligned Budget Authority (RABA) calculation of $4.4 billion, we need to find a better way to smooth out the effects of fluctuating trust fund receipts for the long-term without adding to the federal budget deficit.
TEA-21 also dedicated nearly all highway gas taxes to transportation funding and guarantees that states will receive at least 90.5 percent of their share of their contribution to the highway account of the Highway Trust Fund. Under TEA-21, Ohio received a 23 percent increase in transportation funding.
While TEA-21 has enabled states and localities to improve the condition of deteriorating and unsafe highways and to increase capacity and performance, the system is still aging, and in need of additional investment.
As a member of this Subcommittee – and its former chairman – I am eager to work on the reauthorization of the federal-aid highway program. I understand that groups are talking about funding levels of up to $50 billion a year, which is supported by the GAO study I mentioned earlier. I tell you now I do not think that is something we will be able to do unless Congress and/or the states raise the gas tax.
The short- and long-term viability of the Highway Trust Fund to meet our transportation needs is an issue that will be discussed in the coming months. In the short-term, we will have to determine the annual funding level the Highway Trust Fund can sustain and still meet its obligations. With our country’s finances already in the red, I do not think we can expect that additional resources outside the Highway Trust Fund will be available for highway projects. We must plan for the future based on the principle that the highway program is a fully user-fee based system that pays its own way.
In the long-term, we also have to recognize that two of Congress’ goals – protecting the environment and promoting energy efficiency – will inadvertently affect the amount of money available for transportation projects. For instance, improvements in fuel efficiency and the use of alternative fuels, which we should encourage because they are good for the environment, will decrease revenues to the Highway Trust Fund. If we are to meet our future transportation needs, we will have to find ways to make up for this lost revenue.
Again, thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing. I look forward to the testimony of today's witnesses.