Statement of Senator James M. Inhofe

Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee Hearing on S. 1072

Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003

(SAFETEA)

 

Thank you Mr. Chairman.    I am looking forward to hearing the testimony of my former House colleague and good friend, Norman Mineta, on the President’s proposed bill to reauthorize the federal surface transportation program.  

 

As a result of serving with Norm on the House Public Works and Transportation Committee, I developed a close personal relationship and even went to a few Mineta fundraisers just to show my support for such an outstanding friend and member.   I am pleased to be able to work you again in your capacity as Secretary of Transportation.   Recognizing that you were one of the key authors of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), I know that your input into our efforts to draft a reauthorization proposal will be most helpful and welcomed.

 

S. 1072, or SAFETEA, does, I believe, do a good job of building on many of the key elements of ISTEA and TEA-21.   In particular, I am pleased with your efforts at creating increased flexibility for the states by eliminating most of the discretionary highway grant programs thereby making these funds available to the states through the core formula grant programs.   As a former Mayor and State Legislator, I understand the frustration of state officials when Washington dictates to them how to spend their money.   Your proposal continues and builds on the important principal of allowing states to determine where best to use their federal-aid dollars.

 

I also appreciate the effort you made in addressing a concern that has been expressed by this committee on several occasions that being improvement in project delivery or environmental streamlining.       Your ideas are certainly a starting point for the committee’s further discussion on this important issue.

 


Finally, on an issue that we heard much about during our hearings last year, SAFETEA puts some very interesting ideas on the table with respect to freight movement and the need to use innovative financing to address the increasing demand that freight puts on our transportation infrastructure.   In the 107th Congress, I joined Senator Bob Smith in introducing a private activity bond proposal and I am pleased to see that you included private activity bonds as a possible financing tool available to states and local governments.

 

However, I am not satisfied with the level of funding proposed in the bill.   The primary purposes of federal spending are to support a strong national defense and to invest in and maintain a strong national infrastructure.  

 

As much as it pains me to say this, I believe SAFETEA does not provide sufficient funding to maintain our nation’s infrastructure, much less improve it.    The Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) recent 2002 Status of the Nation’s Highways, Bridges, and Transit: Conditions and Performance report states the following:  

 

“ . . . maintaining the overall conditions and performance of highways and bridges at current levels would require significantly more investment by all levels of government. . . . . the average annual investment [needs] to be  . . . .17.5 percent larger.”

 

Again, quoting from the Conditions and Performance report:

 


Despite the historic investments in highway infrastructure and improving conditions on many roads and bridges, operational performance -- the use of that infrastructure -- has steadily deteriorated over the past decade.  In 1987, for example, a trip that would take 20 minutes during non-congested periods required, on average, 25.8 minutes under congested conditions.  By 2000, the same trip under congested conditions required 30.2 minutes, or an additional 4.4 minutes.

 

Mr. Secretary, this proposal simply does not adequately address the needs.   I hope that we can count on you to work with us to bridge the gap on the funding.  If we can get that commitment then I believe we will be able to get a bill this year and on time.

 

Thank you Mr. Chairman.  I look forward to hearing what Secretary Mineta has to say.