STATEMENT OF THE

ST. LOUIS REGIONAL CHAMBER AND GROWTH ASSOCIATION
 SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
SENATE FIELD HEARING
ON
SURFACE TRANSPORTATION

APRIL 7, 2003

 

 

I.                Introduction

 

The St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association (RCGA) respectfully submits this statement to Senator James Inhofe, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, on the occasion of the U.S. Senate. Field Hearing on Surface Transportation in Chicago, Illinois April 7th. RCGA requests that this statement be made an official part of the record of this hearing.

 

II.        RCGA

 

The RCGA is the chamber of commerce and economic development organization for the Greater St. Louis region that includes the Illinois counties of St. Clair, Jersey, Madison, Clinton and Monroe; and St. Louis City and the counties of St. Louis, St. Charles, Lincoln, Warren, Franklin, and Jefferson in Missouri. RCGA’s 4,000 member companies constitute nearly 40% of the regional workforce. As the St. Louis region’s economic development organization, RCGA is a voice for all of the area’s over 60,000 businesses in its effort to improve the community as a place to do business and enhance its overall quality of life.

 

III.             Surface Transportation Reauthorization Issues

 

Our nation’s surface transportation system is the backbone of America’s commerce, economic viability, security, and vitality. Our nation’s global competitiveness depends on a well maintained, functioning network of roads and bridges. And, preserving and improving this system of mobility and accessibility is indispensable to maintaining our quality of life. As the Committee on the Environment and Public Works moves forward structuring the reauthorization of surface transportation bill, you have the opportunity to support and improve upon the philosophy and overall direction of ISTEA and TEA-21 that have served to strengthen the nation’s infrastructure.

 

Building infrastructure requires programmatic and funding stability. We would urge the full utilization of the Highway Trust Fund and maintenance of the existing “firewalls” to insure all funds authorized can be spent. To avoid large swings in annual adjustments in funding, we would urge maintaining and refining the Revenue Aligned Budget Authority mechanism. An equitable distribution of funds requires the new bill to address the fairness of the minimum guarantee formula to states, in particular to those states that are “donors.”

 

The Interstate roads and bridges are the nation’s most important system for the movement of goods and people. Because that system is now fifty years old in many places and in need of major rehabilitation, support for preservation of this system is paramount. While this can - and should - be addressed through an increase in programmatic funds, certain High Priority Projects and “mega” projects (due to their sheer size and scope) need to be accounted for “over and above” minimum guarantees to states. These projects are, for the most part, truly national in significance and should be identified as such and treated separately.

 

IV.             The Need for a New Mississippi River Bridge at St. Louis

 

In the St. Louis metropolitan region, the construction of a new Mississippi River Bridge located just north of downtown is one such “mega” project deserving of special status and funding due to its significance to the region and the nation. The construction of this river crossing is the number one transportation priority in the St. Louis region. It is a vital link in our nation’s surface transportation network and its construction stands to produce benefits on a local, regional and national scale. The new bridge means economic benefits and job creation, transportation efficiencies, improvements in safety, and congestion reduction to the region. Its position as an improved Mississippi River crossing for three vital interstates in America’s heartland strengthens our nation’s defense, communication and economic infrastructure. It is at the crossroads of national east-west traffic and north-south goods movements that support our nation’s commerce.

 

The national importance of the crossing cannot be stressed enough. Recent media reports (see Attachment 1: St. Louis Post Dispatch, March 27, 2003) identifying St. Louis Mississippi River bridges as one of a few national “targets” for terrorism bring this point home. St. Louis is the second largest freight hub in the Midwest, and the 1-70 corridor is one of the primary east-west interstate routes for the US. (see attachment 2: St. Louis Total Combined Truck Flows, USDOT) The new bridge will serve the heart of America where one out of five industrial jobs are located and 40 percent of exports originate. The bridge location will facilitate east-west traffic and the north-south goods movement important to NAFTA trade relations which support 27 percent of US agricultural exports. Currently, we rely on a single crossing where four vital interstates come together leaving us vulnerable.

 

The construction of the new bridge will generate $2.6 billion in economic benefits to the region and create the equivalent of 47,000 year-long national and regional jobs. An estimated $68 million in tax receipts to state and, local entities will result from investment in this important project. Rush hour congestion on the existing facility is expected to double to three hours in twenty years, leading to severe and unacceptable delays. Reduction in congestion with the new bridge will result in a net travel time savings of 16,000 vehicle-hours per day and a net savings of $52 million per year to those using the facility. Approximately $4.6 million per year will also be realized as a result of a safer crossing yielding fewer accidents.

Local support for the bridge is strong and long-standing. The total cost for the project is $1.6 billion. Of that, $308 million has already been committed and engineering and construction are proceeding with those funded elements. The goal is to secure discretionary federal funding to complete this needed project over and above regularly apportioned federal dollars to the states of Missouri and Illinois.

 

We strongly support this project. It is good for our businesses, good for the region and is a key element of our nation’s transportation infrastructure. The new Mississippi River Bridge deserves to be included as an element of the new surface transportation bill this Committee will consider. We urge your support for this project for the St. Louis region and the nation.

 

V.              Conclusion

 

Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee and distinguished members of the Senate in attendance at this field hearing, thank you for this opportunity to comment on the particular interests of the St. Louis region and the RCGA in maintaining a strong surface transportation network for America. RCGA appreciates the chance to share our concerns and recommendations as you work to prepare a new surface transportation bill. We hope we have provided insights into what we believe are important considerations for inclusion in the bill. We look forward to working with the members of this Committee to craft surface transportation legislation that meets the needs of the St. Louis region, the States of Illinois and Missouri, and our nation.

 

Respectfully submitted,

 

Richard C.D. Fleming

President and Chief Executive Officer

St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association

Attachment 1

Threat prompts police to watch 2 bridges

03/27/2003

By Bill Bryan of the Post-Dispatch

 

 

St. Louis police have assigned officers to watch two Mississippi River bridges 24 hours a day after a captured al-Qaida leader told interrogators about what Chief Joe Mokwa described Wednesday as a “generic threat.”

“We have uniformed officers looking for anything unusual,” Mokwa said. He declined to say which of the seven bridges are getting the attention or how the two were chosen.

 

Homeland security officials have long recognized the Poplar Street Bridge as a potential target. It carries three interstates - 55, 64 and 70 - and accommodates about 35 percent of the car and truck traffic across the Mississippi in the St. Louis region.

 

St. Louis also has two rail-only bridges, the Merchants and MacArthur, which get little public notice but play a vital role in national commerce.

 

Mokwa said the FBI alerted him about two weeks ago. The information came from Khalid Shaikh  Mohammed, a high-ranking al-Qaida member who was captured March 1 in Pakistan. Mohammed reportedly told officials that al-Qaida was interested in hitting symbolic landmarks and named the White House, the Israeli embassy in Washington, the Sears Tower in Chicago and bridges in Manhattan, St. Louis and San Francisco.

 

Thomas E. Bush III, special agent in charge of the FBI’s office in St. Louis, confirmed the report Wednesday and emphasized, “There are no specific threats to any bridge in the St. Louis area.”

 

He added, “There has been a lot of nonspecific information that has come out but never substantiated. In this case there’s no timetable given, nothing specific.

 

“You have to be careful in situations like this not to overreact. You don’t want to create panic. There have been a number of these kinds of reports, and you have to take them in context.”

 

But even vague threats are handled seriously, Bush said. “You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. It’s better to err on the side of caution.”

 

The FBI “took necessary steps” that included notifying local police, he said.

 

Mokwa said that after the report, police photographed and studied the bridges. He would not discuss how officers are monitoring them.

 

Illinois State Police Capt. Richard A. Woods, commander of District 11 in Collinsville, said he was aware of the terrorist alert, but he declined to say how his agency might be involved.

 

In June, security at the Edward Jones Dome downtown was tightened after reports that people with ties to unspecified terrorist groups had used an Internet site to gather information about it and the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.

 

Bill Eubanks, then special agent in charge of the FBI here, called that information “very vague.” Nothing came of it.

 

Besides the Poplar Street, Merchants and MacArthur, there are four other Mississippi River bridges in the city. Two, the New Chain of Rocks (1-270) and King bridges, carry cars and trucks. The Eads is used only by MetroLink trains, although it has a road deck under reconstruction. The McKinley is closed for repairs.

 

There are two more bridges in the region not in the city: the Clark Bridge, linking St. Charles County to Alton, and the Jefferson Barracks Bridge, linking south St. Louis County to Monroe County.

 

Reporter Bill Bryan:

E-mail: bbryan@post-dispatch.com Phone: 314-340-8950