U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   08/14/2003
Bruce Warner
Oregon Department of Transportation
135 Transportation Building
Salem, Oregon

TEA-21 Reauthorization

Good morning Senator Wyden and Members of the Committee. I am Bruce Warner and I am the Director of the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). Thank you for this opportunity to discuss the importance of federal investment in transportation in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest as part of the reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). I will briefly describe the distinctive importance transportation has to the Pacific Northwest economy and two specific challenges we face that require greater federal assistance.

Before I begin I would like to recognize Senator Wyden for his leadership on transportation issues. He has been a tireless advocate in the Senate for improving all modes of Oregon’s transportation system. On behalf of the Department, thank you Senator. I look forward to working with you and your staff to ensure the next “TEA” bill is as good for Oregon as TEA-21 and ISTEA were.

The Pacific Northwest region’s economy is built on transportation-intensive industries. Agriculture, construction, transportation equipment, wholesale and retail trade, and manufacturing make up 54 percent of the Oregon-Washington economy, but only 49 percent of the national economy. As a consequence, our economy is more dependent on transportation.

The efficiency of the transportation system affects the competitiveness of Oregon-Washington businesses. To gain a competitive edge in reaching national and global markets, the region must have reliable and cost-effective access to its businesses, farms, ports, airports, and trade partners.

Efficient transportation is also important because the economy of the Pacific Northwest is dependent on global trade. Oregon and Washington export $45 billion of products each year. As a percentage of the region’s economy, this is about twice the national average.

There is growing concern that the existing transportation system is not capable of supporting the growth in freight movements that we expect in the coming years. For example, import-export freight tonnage is forecast to double by 2020 and domestic freight tonnage is expected to increase by about 70 percent. Of particular concern in Oregon is the state’s worsening bridge problem and congestion in the Interstate 5 Corridor.

Oregon faces a massive $4.7 billion bridge problem that threatens the movement of freight within the state, the region, and across the country. More than 500 bridges, most on the Interstate System, are beginning to crack. Severe cracking has forced the state to weight limit an increasing number of bridges. For example, twelve bridges on I-5 are currently weight limited with a total replacement cost of $187 million. Without significant new investment in Oregon’s infrastructure, 30 percent of the state’s bridges will be posted with reduced weight limits by the end of this decade.

Weight limited bridges not only restrict the movement of heavy trucks on the Interstate—the routes established by Congress to carry the nation’s freight—but they drive up costs as freight is diverted off the Interstate, often onto local roads that were never built to handle such heavy loads. Safety is also a concern because many of the detour routes send large trucks down the “Main Street” of small communities that parallel the Interstate.

Oregon is not the only state facing this problem as thousands of bridges built throughout the country during the Interstate era are now at or nearing the end of their design life. These bridges were not built to be maintained indefinitely, but rather to be replaced at the end of their useful life. In Oregon, nearly 25 percent of bridges are greater than 50 years old.

The Governor and Legislature have responded to the problem. Just last month they enacted a $2.5 billion state transportation bonding package, of which almost $2 billion is dedicated to bridges. This major accomplishment alone is not enough, however, because the problem is simply too large and the impacts too far reaching. The Federal Government must also be part of the solution, particularly where the Interstate System is concerned and interstate commerce is negatively impacted.

I urge the Committee to look at ways to address this problem in the next authorization bill. Some options might include updating the current bridge formula to better direct resources to this particular problem, setting aside discretionary bridge funding as was done for California in TEA-21 following earthquakes in the early 1990’s, or others.

Another major transportation challenge we face in the region is congestion in the I-5 Corridor, especially the highway and rail crossings over the Columbia River. The I-5/Columbia River crossings have become a major choke point that threatens the region’s economy and livability.

At the I-5/Columbia River crossings, the cost of delay to trucks is forecast to increase by 140 percent – from $14 million in 2000 to $34 million in 2020. The rail network is equally congested. Congestion adds about 40 minutes to every train move in the Portland-Vancouver area.

The cost of congestion affects both motorists and trucks but freight traffic is disproportionately affected as congestion spreads into times when truck deliveries are made, in the mid-morning after businesses open and mid-afternoon when most pick-ups are made before businesses close. Congestion leads to higher transportation costs for businesses due to delay, unreliable travel times, and increased inventory costs. The bottom line is Oregon businesses will find it harder to compete in domestic and global markets as congestion threatens their productivity.

A recent study showed that congestion in the corridor affects not only the Portland-Vancouver area but also the economies of Oregon, Washington, the West Coast and the nation. For example, about half of rail shipments originating from Seattle-Tacoma travel south through Portland-Vancouver on the way to their final destinations. About 133 million bushels of wheat grown in eastern Washington and Oregon are shipped through the corridor for export to foreign markets.

Washington and Oregon are developing innovative solutions to overcome this threat. Through a collaborative public process, we have identified transportation improvements needed to relieve highway and rail congestion in the Portland-Vancouver segment of this critical corridor. There is much more work to be done, and we will be requesting additional help from this Committee in the coming years. We have a solid foundation upon which to build.

This Committee has recognized the national significance of the I-5 Corridor and included language in TEA-21 designating it a priority corridor and making it eligible for funding under the National Corridor Planning and Development Program. Since then, more than $7 million of federal funding has been awarded to projects in the corridor. Thank you Senator Wyden and the Committee for your strong support of this important corridor. I think it is significant and worth pointing out that we have received funding under both Republican and Democratic Administrations for the corridor and it has strong bipartisan support in Congress.

In the Medford region, dealing with rapid growth and congestion in the I-5 Corridor is a priority for state and local officials. The solution is to upgrade interchanges on the Interstate to better accommodate freight traffic and improve safety for local residents. Again, with your help, Senator, and the help of the Oregon Congressional Delegation, we have made some progress. We have funded two projects in Medford that will help alleviate congestion on I-5 when they are completed over the next several years.

As this Committee works on reauthorizing TEA-21, I strongly urge you to strengthen the existing national corridor program. Instead of spreading limited funding to dozens of corridors a year, the Committee should consider directing increased funding to a handful of corridors, such as the I-5 Corridor, that have true national significance as freight corridors.

In conclusion, Congress must take steps now to ensure that the nation’s transportation system will be capable of moving greater numbers of people and freight, safely and efficiently. The Pacific Northwest will need extra assistance as experts predict that the region’s population and freight movements will grow at a rate faster than the national average. In Oregon, our companies simply will not be able to compete in today’s global markets if the Federal Government does not help us modernize our aging bridges and overcome congestion in major trade corridors such as I-5.

Thank you for inviting me to speak today. I would be happy to answer any questions.