Good Morning. I am Senator Lisa Murkowski, and I will be chairing this mornings hearing of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works. My intention is to take testimony on needed changes to the Federal highway program, and to provide the Committee with other information on Alaskan transportation issues.
I also want to record my thanks to the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, and to the Ranking Member, for allowing us this opportunity to get Alaskans’ views on the record before the Committee completes its work on a new highway bill, which will provide a blueprint for federal programs for the next 6 years.
The Chairman is represented today by Mr. James Qualters, a member of the Committee’s professional staff. I am also accompanied by Mr. Bill Woolf, my aide for transportation issues and many other matters, by my Legislative Director, Mr. Jon DeVore, by Pat Heller, who manages my Alaska offices, and last but not least, by Carol Gustafson, who tells me what to do when I’m here in the Valley.
We have a number of other distinguished guests this morning, but since most of them are here to testify, I will wait to introduce them when we reach that point.
Before we begin, I’d like to provide a few background notes on how Congress is approaching the task of writing a new highway bill. To date, the Committee has held several hearings on various aspects of the overall highway program. In June, the Committee will begin the process of marking up the various sections of the bill, and the Chairman hopes to have the Committee process complete by the end of June.
As most of you know, Congressman Young is the chairman of the equivalent committee of the House of Representatives, and I look forward to working with him – and with all of you -- to develop a highway bill that recognizes Alaska’s many transportation needs, from highways to snowmobile trails.
As you may also know, the House and Senate approach this task in a slightly different way. While the House encourages the inclusion of funding earmarks for certain high-priority projects, the Senate typically does not. At the end of the day, the two chambers will reach a compromise.
Let me be very candid – it will not be easy to craft a bill that accomplishes everything that needs to be done. Many States are already struggling to handle increasing demand with an aging infrastructure, while we in Alaska are still trying to build an adequate infrastructure. We had hoped to be able to work with a figure totaling $255 billion over the next six years. Unfortunately, we may not be able to reach that point. The budget resolution adopted by Congress last week provides for $231 billion in transportation spending over the six years covered by the next highway bill. That is considerably more than the current limit, but will still mean fierce competition for scarce dollars.
That is one reason why I introduced a bill to establish the “Denali Transportation System” earlier this year. If it is adopted, it will provide a new way for Alaska to meet its transportation needs. It would allow the Denali Commission to construct roads and other access-related facilities using a separate appropriation of federal funds.
Although the Denali Commission does not fall within the jurisdiction of this Senate committee, and although this committee does not encourage funding earmarks, I believe it is important for the other members of the Senate Committee to be made aware of the extent of Alaska’s transportation needs. For that reason, today’s comments will not be limited in that respect.
It would be impossible to accommodate everyone who has an interest in this issue and would like to speak, but we are doing our best, and have a long list of witnesses. Because of that, I ask that all the witnesses hold their comments to no more than five minutes.
However, we will also accept written comments of any length, not only from today’s witnesses but also from anyone in the audience who would like to submit them. Written testimony can be submitted by e-mail, and will be accepted for two weeks from today.
With that, let us turn to our first panel today. I’m pleased to welcome Alaska’s Lieutenant Governor, Loren Lehman, the Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, Mr. Mike Barton, and Jeff Staser, the federal co-chair of the Denali commission.