Thank you, Chairman Boxer. I appreciate the opportunity to examine the investment needs of our nation’s transportation system. This next bill will be my fourth authorization, and I believe the challenges in continuing to provide a safe and free flowing transportation network have never been greater. I am sure our witnesses will agree that our nation’s transportation needs outpace our current investment levels.
The link between a robust economy and a strong transportation infrastructure is undeniable, yet when it comes to other spending priorities in the federal government, transportation is often neglected. We cannot continue to rely on investments made over 50 years ago.
Since the Highway Trust Fund has historically maintained high balances, it has become a favorite funding source for all surface transportation activities, while maintaining the highway users as the only revenue stream into the fund. As this Committee addresses growing infrastructure investment needs, with limited resources on hand, we will need to be bold in re-evaluating our highest national transportation priorities.
I was disappointed that the Stimulus Plan signed last month provided less than 7% of spending for all classes of infrastructure, and highways was only about 3%. This level of funding for highways in an economic stimulus bill is unacceptable, as it largely ignores the immediate job creation and economic growth associated with infrastructure investment. In response to this insufficient level of investment, Senator Boxer and I worked together to craft an amendment that, if successfully added to the package, would have provided an additional $50 billion for highways, transit, and clean and safe drinking water without increasing the size of the bill. Unfortunately, this was blocked.
It is important to note that the $27.5 billion for highways in stimulus is in no way a substitute for the hundreds of billions needed to address our nation’s infrastructure crisis. In fact, the U.S. Department of Transportation calculates that the backlog of projects needed to simply maintain our nation’s current highway and bridge network is $495 billion and growing.
As we wait for a re-authorization proposal to emerge from the Administration, I would encourage President Obama to prioritize the transportation needs of this country. Now more than ever, we cannot afford to ignore the needs of our aging highway network.