This is a critically important hearing that we are having today. Transportation infrastructure is a critical resource to my State of Georgia, and our nation, in providing greater mobility and a higher quality of life. Furthermore, transportation is essential to the commerce and the provision of goods and services throughout our nation. The task ahead of us is challenging. Creating the necessary programs, and then finding the necessary funds to maintain and improve the transportation infrastructure is becoming increasingly difficult.
Finding solutions in my State of Georgia have been especially daunting. The Georgia Department of Transportation estimates a $7.7 billion transportation funding shortfall during the current six year period. In fiscal year 2007 alone it was estimated that maintenance, safety and other transportation improvements were short nearly $445 million.
I recognize that this Committee does not have jurisdiction over revenue raising measures, and that responsibility lies within the jurisdiction of the Committee chaired by my colleague Senator Baucus, who also chairs the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure on which I am the Ranking Member. I also recognize that today’s hearing is intended to be a discussion of a reauthorization of the surface transportation program, and this report’s suggestions of condensing the 100 current Federal surface programs into 10 new focus areas that are outcome based, as opposed to the current system that is modally based.
However, I do not think this Committee can have a discussion about new programs or focus areas in a vacuum, without also including in that discussion realistic expectations about what funds are available. This has to be a coordinated approach with the other Committees, because we need to understand and know what is possible and what isn’t possible from a revenue standpoint. Congress too often, with the best of intentions, authorizes programs that far exceed the resources available for it only to have those programs suffer or even fail for lack of funding. We need to be cognizant of that in this debate going forward, and recognize that we need to partner with our revenue raising Committees in the House and Senate to ensure we are not creating conditions whereby we are unable to solve America’s transportation and infrastructure needs.
On that note, I do believe that the current revenue raising mechanisms for surface transportation are broken and no longer appropriate for funding our nation’s surface transportation infrastructure. I recognize that we are facing a $340 billion problem, and am not sure how raising the Federal motor fuel tax by upwards of ¢40 per gallon when we have demonstrated that this mechanism is failing, solves that problem.
Madam Chairman, the suggested focus areas that the Commission has outlined are of great interest in my State. For example, in September this Committee held a hearing on bridge safety. In preparation for that hearing I contacted Georgia DOT and learned that Georgia has approximately 9,000 bridges statewide, and GDOT inspects all of them at a minimum of every two years with many being inspected annually. 50% of these bridges are "on system", which means they are controlled by the state, while 50% are "off system", which means they are either city or county controlled. In Georgia, approximately 1,100 bridges are classified as structurally deficient, with 200 of these being on system and 900 off system. The National Asset Management Program as recommended by this Commission is an attractive solution to ensure that these bridges are maintained, and the tragedy in Minnesota is not repeated.
The ports of Savannah and Brunswick in my State are growing at a tremendous rate. The Freight Transportation program to relieve congestion, increase intermodal connections, and reduce time and costs to the supply chain appears that it will ensure that these ports growth is not choked off.
I have long advocated for intercity passenger rail along the I-75 and I-85 corridors in the south to relieve congestion on those interstates in our region. I believe that the Federal government should provide the infrastructure, but instead of Amtrak running the routes on a government subsidy we should instead leave it to the private sector to compete and provide service. I am pleased to see the Commission’s emphasis on this.
I am also pleased to see the Commission’s recommendations on a national access program for smaller cities and rural areas. When many people think of Georgia they think of metropolitan Atlanta, and often forget that so much of our state is rural. I have long advocated for connections for these rural communities to the economic centers of my State for moving freight and people. I look forward to hearing from the Commission on this.
Finally, my greatest interest is in the Commission’s recommendations on congestion relief for our metropolitan areas. In metropolitan Atlanta, the average roundtrip commute time is over one hour per day. The impact on business and families as a result of this congestion is very real. Further, only 9% of our metropolitan community uses mass transit. I look forward to hearing the Commission’s suggestions on strategies that include an expansion of transit and highway and road capacity.
Madam Chairman, in Georgia we have been working on this issue for some time. I would like to submit for the record a report that the Joint Study Committee for Transportation Funding in our State Legislature put forth with its suggestions on addressing Georgia’s transportation congestion problems. We must keep in mind as we move forward that any changes we make here in Washington have a tremendous impact on our State Departments of Transportation, and other stakeholders in our States. We must work in partnership with the States to ensure that we maximize our programs and resources as we work towards the common goal of ensuring that we meet infrastructure demand for the next century.
Madam Chairman, I yield back my time.