Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to join the other members of the Subcommittee in welcoming Secretary Mineta. I am very interested in his comments about this important legislation.
As those who have visited Alaska know first-hand, and others have heard from all the members of the Alaska Delegation, my state lags far behind the rest of the nation in surface transportation systems. Elsewhere in the United States, communities deal with substandard roads, or deteriorating highways, or congestion. In Alaska, it is literally not possible to drive to many communities. You cannot drive where there is no road.
We Alaskans are pretty good at making do. In the winter, we use frozen rivers as roads, and in other seasons we travel and move our goods in boats, or in small aircraft, or on 4-wheelers. In fact, many of us enjoy the sense of being near the wilderness.
But there is a devastating price to be paid.
For most Americans, a serious injury means a quick trip to the nearest emergency room.
For most Americans, a fire means calling the fire department, and with any luck, your life and property can be saved.
For most Americans, buying groceries means deciding which supermarket has the best sales this week.
For most Americans, looking for work means hopping in the car, or on the bus. But in much of Alaska, daily life is very different. And a big reason for that is the lack of even minimal transportation options.
To be honest, I think the United States has made a huge mistake by not freeing Alaskans to contribute more to the national economy – either by building a network of basic roads or by letting Alaskans build them – as most of the country did – with a minimum of interference from well-intentioned but thoroughly stifling regulations.
There are some things I very much appreciate in the Administration’s proposed highway bill. For example, it provides the States with greater flexibility to move funding between certain categories of activity. That’s both welcome and badly needed, as each of our States struggle with their own unique issues.
However, I am disappointed in other aspects of the proposal. I do not think that it adequately recognizes the importance of the transportation system to the quality of life we seek to make available to every American, and the need for highway funding levels that respond adequately to the very real needs being felt in every State.
We all recognize that congestion is a key issue for many of our roadways. And we all should recognize that traditional methods of dealing with congestion are not working very well.
We all recognize that safety is a key issue. And we should all recognize that while encouraging seat belt use is laudable, it would be even more laudable if we took steps to reduce the potential for accidents in the first place.
We all recognize the issue of “road rage” as one we need to address. And we should all recognize that we need to make greater efforts to eliminate the frustrations that cause it, as well as enforcing the law against those who experience it.
I think we need to rethink our highway and highway-related programs. Rather than coerce states into uniformly required actions that “big brother” has decided are right for everyone, let’s encourage states to take actions that are right for them.
Maybe – with all due respect to the American trucking industry and to the invaluable role it plays in our lives – we need to find another way to move long-haul goods.
Maybe we need to make it harder – much harder – for individuals to obtain driver’s licenses by requiring improved training.
And most of all, maybe we need to understand that training, enforcement, transit programs, and so forth are still only pieces of the puzzle. If the highway system is overextended, overcrowded, and over-frustrating, we will not be able to fix it by nibbling around the edges. This is not the place to cut costs – or corners.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.