Thank you Chairman Boxer. I appreciate the opportunity to examine the role of the federal government in our nation’s transportation system. As this Committee begins to focus more on transportation issues with the expiration of SAFETEA approaching, I believe it will be increasingly more important to evaluate the structure and the performance of the highway program.
One indication of the lack of focus of the current program is the enormous number of programs: DOT frequently cites 109 separate programs buried within the larger highway and transit programs. Of course, simply reducing the number of programs does not provide focus. We must rethink the fundamental role of the Federal government in the highway program. The current Federal program now tries to be all things to all people.
When President Eisenhower first conceived the Interstate System over 50 years ago, he envisioned a system to connect the nation and enhance national defense. The enormous economic benefits provided by the system would not be fully understood for some time. Since then many new responsibilities were added largely because of the success and popularity of the program. It now funds everything from building museums to a program designed to get our children to exercise more.
Many of the activities added over the years are very meritorious. My primary question is whether the highway program is the appropriate vehicle, especially given the limited resources.
The new responsibilities were added while maintaining essentially the same revenue sources. The result is that there are not sufficient resources to properly address the core responsibilities of the program, let alone the extra programs we have added.
As we begin SAFETEA reauthorization discussions, my hope is that we will be able to work together to re-define the core mission of the Federal highway program. We need to determine the fundamental missions of the Federal program and ensure that those needs are being met and those aspects of the system are performing well. We must be bold in refocusing our limited resources to our nation’s greatest infrastructure needs.
And finally, I want to point out that yesterday Senator Boxer and I, along with 65 other Senators, sent a letter to the Finance Committee and leadership, urging a quick resolution to the looming Highway Trust Fund crisis. Due to high gas prices and a weaker economy gas tax receipts have been far lower than expected when we wrote SAFETEA. As a result, the Highway Trust Fund is going to run out of money next year. We need to solve this problem as soon as possible.