In the course of our hearings, we heard from many of the nation’s finest transportation minds. It appears, Norm, that you have also listened to these transportation experts. SAFETEA contains a number of policy recommendations that are national in scope. And that is essential. Transportation is a national issue. It connects the nation. It unites the nation. It must be viewed from a national perspective.
And transportation is clearly a government responsibility. It provides the public framework on which our economy and our communities are built. Transportation spending is a powerful job creator; it stimulates hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs. Transportation provides capacity for our global trading network. Our neighborhoods, our towns, our cities and our metropolitan areas are formed and defined by our transportation system.
In our hearings, we learned that our current national transportation program is sound.
The ISTEA policies and the TEA 21 funding guarantees are working. We were advised to carry these ideas forward.
Mr. Secretary, your bill reflects these principles. But, regrettably, at 247 billion dollars, the proposal before us falls well short. The secretaries of transportation from the 50 state DOTs have called for a 300 billion dollar program. The cost to simply maintain our system is even greater. That is why I’ve joined with my colleagues on the Committee to commit 311 billion dollars to transportation spending, a 40 per cent increase in the program. So, we are far from your proposal.
As I’ve said previously, I will not support an underfunded bill. While a short-term extension presents problems, it is preferable to six years of under-investment. And the need for investment is national. Every state in this country has aging roads and bridges and the need for expanded capacity. I want to substantially increase the program. And, I want to distribute that increase in a manner that benefits all fifty states. I want to lift all boats. With a 40 per cent increase, every state should benefit.
Our investments in transportation should enhance our environment. My record on clean air, clean water, and sound planning is clear. I will oppose any retreat in environmental protection.
The current national transportation program--TEA 21--expires in just over four months.
So today’s hearing is an important milestone in our process. We will need to work diligently--and cooperatively--if we are to meet that deadline.
Let me close by commending the administration for its focus on safety. Today, highway accidents are the number one cause of death among Americans age 4 through 33. These are our young people, our nation’s most precious resource. I am heartened by your focus on safety. We talked a great deal about safety in both ISTEA and TEA 21. This time, lets match this rhetoric with real spending!
Mr. Secretary, I believe that we share a common national outlook. There are areas where we differ, but those differences can be bridged. I look forward to working with you and your capable staff on renewal of the nation’s surface transportation program.