I would like to welcome everybody to this field hearing of the Committee on Environment and Public Works. I am honored to hold the hearing for my good friend John Cornyn to learn more about the transportation needs along the Southern Texas Border and how we can build upon the successes of TEA-21.
As I’m sure everybody here is aware, the law currently governing surface transportation, TEA-21, must be reauthorized this year. I believe there is a desire at all levels to finish this legislation as soon as possible. It is my desire that we would complete action in the Senate early in September.
My goals for reauthorization are very congruent with the needs of Texas and, I believe, the goals of Senator Cornyn.
I plan to put a great deal of focus on improving safety, congestion, and freight movement. A good highway program can save lives, improve the economy, and improve peoples’ quality of life.
Reauthorizing the transportation bill also gives us an opportunity to examine the environmental laws that govern the process of planning and constructing new transportation infrastructure. I plan to streamline the approval and building process that bogs-down road building today.
I am also interested in providing a legal basis for the agreements that EPA made with states and localities for areas to attain the 8-hour ozone standard early. EPA had worked out the concept with environmental groups, yet I am concerned that these areas are vulnerable to lawsuits. Areas that have signed “early action compacts” are taking steps to clean their air faster than required. Texas has early action compacts for the San Antonio, Austin, and Longview-Tyler areas, and Oklahoma has compacts for both Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
I also would like to see healthy and sustainable growth in funding levels under the new bill. The nation’s highway and bridge needs are staggering. I intend to fund the highway component of the bill at include $255 billion over 6 years. This would be about the same growth rate in funding as between ISTEA and TEA-21. This will allow us to continue the great improvements made under TEA-21.
But simply increasing funding is not enough. States like Oklahoma and Texas currently pay significantly more into the Highway Trust Fund than they receive in highway funding. We are donor states. I want to significantly increase the rate of return of donor states. This is an important equity issue.
Texas received less than $13 billion under TEA-21. Early estimates indicated that Texas would receive at least an additional $4.5 billion under a bill written at $255 billion that improved the rate of return for donor states.
I would like to thank the witnesses for coming. I look forward to hearing your testimonies.