To Senator Ron Wyden, and to members of the Committee, thank you all for allowing me to appear before you today to discuss our thoughts regarding reauthorization of the next TEA -21. For the record, my name is Brad Hicks, President & CEO of the Medford/ Jackson County Chamber of Commerce. Our Chamber is the second largest in the State of Oregon representing companies and organizations of every size, sector and corner of southern Oregon. My testimony will address some thoughts about reauthorization that are critical for the business community and equally critical to the nation.
Safe, unclogged roads are vital to this country. These highways and bridges impact the independence and mobility of our citizens, our productivity and employment base, our competitiveness and maybe now more than ever, our national security and health of our economy. I believe that the 108th Congress will look at few other priorities that will have a more direct impact on the personal and professional lives of their constituents than the decisions on transportation investments.
For our country, as I stated, the investment in our transportation infrastructure is directly connected to future economic growth, competitiveness, quality of life and national security. That is no different here in southern Oregon. As a regional economy, Medford, Jackson County and southern Oregon each enjoy the benefits of the family wage jobs provided by the trucking companies who reside here. In fact, one of this area's largest employers is a trucking company employing hundreds of residents at above average wages. This does not take into account the many smaller trucking firms, brokers and other related businesses. However, while there are obvious economic advantages to our geographic situation, because Medford is a "pass through" region for many using the 1-5 corridor, southern Oregon is also left to contend with well-used infrastructure.
Taking into consideration the significant, positive, impact to the region's economy that sound highways and bridges have - combined with TEA 21's tremendous investment, to date, making transportation safer, less congested and more efficient - it seems apparent that a well-financed, dependable and efficient transportation system is essential for a healthy Oregon business climate.
In order to achieve that end, I'd like to suggest that the "budgetary firewall" be restored to ensure the original promise of the Highway Trust Fund - that highway taxes would be used exclusively for highway improvements and to continue to explore other options for increasing revenue to the Highway Trust Fund, including:
· Drawing down the nearly $20 billion surplus in the Highway Trust Fund
· Restoring Interest payments to the Highway Trust Fund
· Exploring other innovative ideas that would leverage private sector investments in transportation
Once reauthorization of TEA- 21 has occurred and the debate begins as to where those dollars will go, I hope, Senator, that you'll help fully fund Oregon's priority projects and of particular interest to those of us in southern Oregon, the Fern Valley Interchange project between Phoenix and Medford.
In closing, the The Chamber will continue to advocate increased spending on transportation infrastructure and streamlining of environmental review process. We will play an active and aggressive part in advancing the idea of a transportation agenda that strengthens our transportation systems. This is a new environment that requires new thinking and new approaches to transportation that should be characterized by changed behaviors and measurable results. We will continue to remind the public and Congress that infrastructure is not disposable -- it is a strategic asset that must be renewed and protected.
The impact of doing nothing will be increased congestion, decreased safety on our roads, and setbacks in our ability to improve air quality. Our Chamber and chambers throughout the nation look forward to working with Congress and the President to bring about continued, predictable investment in our nation's transportation system in TEA-21 reauthorization. Investment in our national transportation system will ensure we remain a leader in the global marketplace.
Thank you, and I am happy to answer your questions.