Thank you Madame Chairman. It is safe to say that the anticipation for the Commission Report has been high. We recognize that we need to give critical thought to our transportation policy as we move into reauthorization in 2009. The results of the Commission’s study will be an important part of those deliberations.
First, I want to thank the individual Commissioners for their efforts. I recognize that it took time and dedication on your part to not only attend meetings, and public hearings but some of you had to learn an entire new subculture, the Federal-Aid Highway world. This next bill will be my fourth reauthorization and I am still learning how this program works, so I congratulate and thank you for sticking with it to come up with this comprehensive report. world.This next bill will be my fourth reauthorization and I am still learning how this program works, so I congratulate and thank you for sticking with it to come up with this comprehensive report.
I think the important lessons to take from the report are that if we don’t take dramatic action, growing congestion and deteriorating pavement conditions will choke the US economy. Another key finding is that both the current model of stovepiped modal decisions and the current program structure are outdated. That being said, I am not sure I agree with all of your conclusions. Specifically, I’m concerned that the report seems to expand the role of the Federal government at the expense of the States. I have long advocated for the reverse. I am a firm believer in a national transportation system, but think our current federal-aid program has expanded beyond that to be a state and local system paid for with federal-aid dollars.
I am interested in hearing more of your thoughts behind some of the recommendations. For example, I believe you are heading us in the right direction in collapsing the program into more targeted focus areas, but I am not sure I agree with all of your new programs. Nonetheless, I appreciate you starting the discussion and look forward to learning more of what you envision. As stated earlier, if we are to successfully address our pressing infrastructure needs, I believe we need to think beyond individual modal needs and talk about how they all work together. Certainly, for this to be successful, highways users cannot be the only mode contributing. If I understand your recommendation, I believe your transit user fee proposal is an indication you agree with me on this point.
Two of your proposals, environmental streamlining and increased focus on safety, were among my highest priorities during the last reauthorization. We labored long and hard to reach consensus on streamlining the environmental approval process, so I am curious to better understand what more you propose be done. Likewise, we created a new core Safety program that requires States to develop a comprehensive safety plan that must focus on the biggest safety problems in the state, then use the new Safety money to address those problems. Again, I am interested in your views on why that is not working.
Finally, I have to comment on the proposed financing mechanism. I believe increasing the federal fuel tax by the amount proposed in your report is not doable. Furthermore, I am not convinced it is necessary. Certainly, given the balances in the Highway Trust Fund, an increase in the fuel tax must be considered, but not to the level you propose. I had hoped that the Commission would have considered in more detail alternative financing mechanisms that could eventually replace the fuel tax as the primary method to collect revenue for transportation. As vehicles become more fuel efficient, the existing funding model of paying per gallon of fuel will not be effective.
Again, I appreciate your efforts and thoughtful recommendations and look forward to discussing them further with you.