Good morning. My name is David Lorig and I am president of Lorig Construction, a highway contractor located in Des Plaines, Illinois just outside of Chicago. I am also the president-elect of the Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association, the largest association of transportation design and construction professionals in Illinois.
IRTBA or Roadbuilders as we are commonly called, is proud of its leadership role in advancing the need for continued and expanded investment in our public transportation infrastructure. We are constantly aware that the public, through their contributions at the gas pump, have and continue to trust that their public monies will be spent wisely. In a recessionary climate like the one that we are experiencing now, the need for thoughtful public policy decisions concerning our transportation system has perhaps never been greater.
The Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association also recognizes that public transportation investment is not limited to roads and bridges but includes air, transit, rail and waterways. These are the very systems that translate into economic activity that is so vital to our nation in the past, present and future. However, today I will limit my comments to highways and bridges since that is the focus of this committee.
From the onset of the national role in funding highways and bridges there has been one overriding theme—all elements of this country need to be tied together. Roads and bridges in Illinois and throughout the nation provide that tie. Probably nowhere else in the country provides a better picture of this necessity than the Chicago area and the entire State of Illinois. Throughout the 20th century, the national role in funding these needed arterials has grown, so it is now recognized that the national government possesses the best ability to garner the necessary revenue to fund these improvements. Our entire transportation system, especially roads and bridges, and its effect on the economy, simply can not survive without the highest commitment from the federal government.
From the vision of former President Dwight Eisenhower through the countless businesses and individuals that have worked on our interstate system, we have attempted to build and maintain the world’s greatest transportation system. I believe it is our duty and vision to maintain and improve this system. However, in this regard, we can, and need, to do better.
Currently, the system is aging and deteriorating. Despite the best design and maintenance practices imaginable, the pavement is crumbling and the bridges have become perilously deficient. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that it will take an annual expenditure of nearly $ 60 billion per year just to maintain the system. But maintenance alone will not cure the ever increasing chokehold that congestion brings to the system every work day.
Millions of hours are wasted daily in stress-creating traffic jams in literally every urban area. Once again, probably nowhere else in the nation provides a better (or worse) picture of this situation than the Chicago area and the entire State of Illinois. The environmental damage done by exhaust fumes only exacerbates the problem. Yet, our national commitment to date is only about half of what USDOT says is needed. We can, and need, to do better.
Additionally, roadbuilding means jobs—literally thousands of them. Illinois enjoys the dubious distinction of currently having one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. Road and bridge building provides not only the construction jobs while the projects are underway but thousands of additional jobs afterwards with companies who desire to locate in a state located at the very heart of the nation.
As the site of the world’s busiest airport, the only place where six class “A” rail lines come together and where the interstate system carries more trucks in a day than many other states experience in a week—we simply cannot exist without a viable and adequately funded national network of roads and bridges. Yet much of that air, rail and road system is congested for the better part of the day. We are coming dangerously close, and in many cases have already reached the point, of businesses not making certain investments and individuals not making certain trips merely because of congestion. We can, and need, to do better.
At the Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association, we are pushing the research envelope in being innovative in our work. The private sector continues to develop the methods and materials to duplicate the results of older technology at a fraction of the cost and is readily available to work with the public sector in maximizing the value of its expenditures.
Yet, there are those who seem to frustrate that progress, whether intentional or not. New roads spend many years in study and litigation before they are built—if ever. As a graduate of Duke University Law School and a contractor, I believe I have a unique perspective and I am amazed at the myriad of rules and regulations with which we must comply in order to achieve even the simplest of improvement. I sometimes shudder at the number of rules that we must deal with. We can, and need, to do better.
One concept and term that is often used is “environmental streamlining”. While some may think that the environment is somehow threatened by such a concept, all it really means is that we call upon the myriad of agencies that evaluate a highway project, to do it simultaneously and coordinate their efforts. No sacrifice of ethics or principles is intended nor required other than placing the commitment to improve our transportation system and requiring various agencies to work together towards that goal.
When it comes to the actual project—if they get built—there needs to be greater acknowledgement to the use of new technology and management practices. New technology and practices should be embraced so that the motoring public gets maximum value from its contribution at the gas pump. Web based management holds the promise of quicker project closeouts and greater accountability and efficiency. Continued investment in research challenges both the universities and private sector to do what they do best—innovate and bring better products to the marketplace.
Finally, we need to maintain the highest commitment to improving traffic operations both daily and in work zones. Last year, 31 people perished in Illinois work zone related accidents. We can, and need, to do better. As we kick off Work Zone Awareness Week, let us all resolve to support increased safety in work zones by slowing down!
Please allow me to summarize. Road building means jobs—held by thousands of technical and skilled individuals performing often back-breaking dangerous jobs, who pay taxes and make this economic engine called “Illinois” work. However, the system that was created nearly 50 years ago is terribly congested, deteriorating, and in dire need of technical and financial assistance designed to maximize the public expenditure of funds. In addition, we have to use technology, innovation, research and just plain common sense to make this system work better. The needs of the various states need to be equitably addressed so that each state gets what it needs to keep our country moving.
The Chicago area and the entire State of Illinois are at the crossroads of the nation. Transportation problems in the Chicago area and the entire State of Illinois have a snowball effect throughout the rest of the nation. Therefore, the needs of the Chicago area and the entire State of Illinois must be immediately addressed with the highest commitment, both financial and otherwise, from the Federal Government.