Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary, I want to join my colleagues in welcoming you to the Committee this afternoon to discuss the President's proposals for reauthorizing our nation's surface transportation laws.
It was my privilege to work extensively with many of my colleagues on TEA-21 as the Subcommittee chairman at that time. Today, I remain as committed today to ensuring that there is adequate funding to meet our surface transportation needs, to improving the safety of the traveling public, and to ensuring that our agricultural products and manufacturing goods can travel efficiently across this country.
We look forward to learning of your proposals, and I certainly have a few ideas of my own. As you are well aware, many of us, including myself, have strong views about the funding level that is needed to maintain an adequate level of service on our nation's highways and transit systems. This is a matter that we will not resolve today, but I assure you that I want to have an open dialogue with you and the Department as we continue to examine ways to ensure the viability of the Highway Trust Fund. I commend the Administration for'taking the initial step of allowing for the transfer of the 2.5 cents per gallon tax on gasohol to the Highway Trust Fund.
Mr. Secretary, I want to be clear from the beginning, and I welcome the opportunity for further clarification, that I have strong concerns about two major policy issues in the Administration's proposals.
First, current safety programs under the jurisdiction of the Environment and Public Works Committee are not continued which, in my view, takes us in the reverse, not forward, in our commitment to safety. We all know that excessive speed and aggressive driving coupled with the failure to wear a safety belt causes an intolerably high number of traffic deaths and injuries. For the first time in a decade, traffic deaths are on the increase. Alcohol remains a prevalent problem, particularly for teen drivers. We must ensure that states remain focused on these problems by funding programs that promote seat belt usage, and educate drivers of the dangers of drinking and driving. We must make every effort to have states enact a .08 BAC law, provide stiffer penalties for repeat drunk driving offenders, and enact laws prohibiting open alcohol containers in vehicles. For states failing to meet these minimum federal standards, the current requirement to transfer a small amount of funding must be focused on addressing these problems, and not used for construction.
Secondly, I, like so many others, am frustrated with the length of time it takes for a highway or transit project to make its way from the drawing board to construction. This deserves the time and attention that you have dedicated to this problem by reaching out to all interested groups. I am concerned, however, with the brief descriptions that I have seen about the significant changes proposed for Section 4(f) and Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Act.
This Committee has a long history in ensuring that our nation's historic properties are protected under Section 4(f). This is not a duplicative process, but one that compliments Section 106 reviews. It allows transportation projects to proceed when it has been demonstrated that there are no other prudent and feasible alternatives. Historic properties are an important means of telling our nation's history. They are our outdoor classrooms for students and living treasures to our past. I remain committed to ensuring that the preservation of our historic homes, structures, battlefields and open spaces remain on an equal footing with the ever-increasing demands for transportation construction.
Mr. Secretary, we are at the beginning of a long process today. We share many of the same goals and I know that by working together we can develop a sound national policy that reduces traffic deaths and injuries, promotes construction while preserving historic sites, reduces congestion, improves air quality and finances a transportation system that continues to contribute to the overall health of our national economy.