I would like to thank the Secretary of Transportation, Norman Mineta, for appearing before us today to testify on the Administration’s long awaited proposal entitled, "SAFETEA, The Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003”. We look forward to your testimony on this most important reauthorization.
While our committee has been in receipt of a “bootleg” copy of the Administration’s proposal for quite some time, it is nice to finally have a vetted version approved by OMB.
As I indicated in February when the Federal Highway Administrator, Mary Peters, appeared before my subcommittee, I am disappointed by the inadequate level of funding made available under your proposal. The needs of Missouri fall in line with the Department of Transportation’s Conditions and Performance Report which estimates that the annual Federal investment in roads must increase by 17 percent per year simply to maintain the nation’s existing highway and bridge system. Improving the system will require 65 percent more than is currently invested.
Funding will be the area of emphasis for us here in the Senate, if we are to achieve our goal of having a 6-year reauthorization package sent to the President prior to the September 30th expiration date. The funding levels assumed in your reauthorization proposal will make it impossible for our committee to draft a bill. For this reason, I along with our Chairman, Ranking Member and Subcommittee Ranking Member, have already concluded that we will draft our bill at $255 billion as supported by 79 Senators during our debate on the Senate Budget Resolution.
I am pleased that the Administration’s draft includes spending down the Highway Trust Fund balances, spurring economic growth through additional revenue. I believe that we must spend the balances down even further over the life of the next authorization to create even greater revenue and jobs.
2-lane roads with traffic for the interstate are our major killers.
Your proposal also continues what I along with Senator Chafee referred to as the Bond/Chafee or RABA (Revenue Aligned Budget Authority). I look forward to working with the Administration and this committee to further refine the ups & downs we have seen through RABA in TEA-21.
With the shortfalls of funding in many states throughout the nation, the provision to toll the interstate is a tool which I think is appropriate to have in these fiscally constrained times. Our states need to be able to add additional capacity and toll financing is an alternative way to enable the states to do so.
We have heard in testimony by the Administration, that nearly 43,000 people are killed on our highways and roads each year. The Administration has proposed a new safety core program and even entitled its reauthorization package to continue their commitment to our motoring public’s safety. I am glad that the bill reflects our continued commitment to making not only investments in our infrastructure, but also to the general safety and welfare of our constituents.
There have also been many discussions regarding the State Infrastructure Bank (SIBS) program. I am happy to see that the Administration is proposing to continue with the current program as it was authorized in TEA-21. I understand that of the five states authorized in TEA-21, only my state, Missouri, as well as Florida have agreed to utilize the funding from TEA-21 and are doing very well with their SIB program. Even though the Administration’s draft suggests that these two states would likely be accepted as pilot states under the Secretary’s criteria, I am going to propose that they be allowed to continue in the same positive manner in which they have operated over the previous 6-year authorization.
Research is an area which is very important to our national interest in maintaining our position and providing cutting edge technology. The University Transportation Centers (UTCs) Program provides necessary dollars to this mission in the area of higher education. I am pleased that the University of Missouri, Rolla was recognized as a UTC to address national needs in the areas of transportation infrastructure focusing on advanced materials and non-destructive testing (NDT) technologies. This involves: 1) development, understanding, manufacturing and use of new, more durable construction material and NDT methods; 2) installation processes and engineering design; 3) monitoring and evaluation of new and repaired structures; 4) standardization and code approval of products and design protocols; and 5) education and technology transfer. We certainly want to make sure we have our universities are involved in transportation research.
The Administration’s bill contains several environmental provisions as well. Stakeholders on all sides of the issues tell us that improvements are needed in the way we develop and review projects, and protect air quality from new and existing projects.
The Committee is working with groups as diverse as road builders, environmental advocates such as Environmental Defense and NRDC, state air agencies, state transportation agencies, metropolitan planning organizations, conservation advocates and managed growth proponents. We are working to draw ideas from all stakeholders and their proposals.
We hope to find a balanced approach that will produce better transportation projects delivered on time and under budget. We will also ensure a conformity process that is more efficient, less burdensome, does more to encourage air quality improvements, and is equally protective of air quality.
Unfortunately, there are a number of proposals in the proposed bill that I however, cannot support.
While we face a number of complex challenges with the movement of freight, I do not think we should be utilizing highway dollars to help facilitate the rail industry. The Administration’s bill proposes a new Freight Transportation Gateways Program which will allow the use of Surface Transportation Program dollars as well as National Highway System dollars. This means less dollars for our roads despite the ever growing number of needs identified in the Conditions and Performance report by the Federal Highway Administration. I am pleased though that the Administration doesn’t include the use of Highway Trust Fund dollars for passenger rail or Amtrak.
As I stated earlier, I am glad that we received the Administration’s bill and are moving forward with reauthorization. We have our work cut out for us in drafting our reauthorization proposal at $255 billion. The Senate number is really $231 billion for highways as identified in the final Budget Resolution. While $231 billion for highways is higher than what you have proposed today, it will be difficult to address all of the various issues that members of this committee would like to see done in this reauthorization period without additional revenues. I look forward to working with the Administration to draft a bill that will improve the overall condition of our nation’s highways and congestion. I look forward to your testimony.