I appreciate the opportunity to hear from state and local leaders about their transportation priorities. This next highway bill will be my 4th authorization, and I know first-hand that experiences of those outside of Washington have a role in guiding the policy making process.
Today, 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 spending levels.
The link between a robust economy and strong transportation infrastructure is undeniable; yet when it comes to other spending priorities at all levels of government, transportation is often neglected. Complicating matters is that the Highway Trust Fund cannot afford current spending levels. As I have often said, since the Highway Trust Fund has historically maintained high balances, it has become a favorite funding source for all surface transportation activities, including recreational trails, bike paths, ferry boats, and fixing city streets.
These new responsibilities were added while maintaining essentially the same revenue sources—a user fee on motor fuel. Simply put, there are not sufficient resources to properly address the core responsibilities of the program, let alone the extra programs we have added over the decades. If we are serious about a long term re-authorization, we are going to have to re-prioritize the activities the federal highway program currently supports.
According to the Administration, our nation’s backlog of deferred road and bridge maintenance is $600 billion and growing. Typically, spending on roads and bridges at all levels of government is around $80 billion a year, of which the federal government makes up 40%. Clearly, with limited Highway Trust Fund resources, the federal highway program is only part of the solution.
If we are going to adequately address the maintenance backlog, growing congestion and the expansive increase in truck freight, public jurisdictions at all levels must take responsibility. This means that not only do we need to get the most for our federal highway dollar, but we need to encourage state and local governments and the private sector to invest as much as possible in roads and bridges. I look forward to hearing from our witness on how they believe the highway program can accomplish this.