This is the first transportation hearing we've held since Senator Vitter became ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee. I'd like to welcome him in this role and I look forward to working with him on the highway bill.
Today's hearing highlights how important transportation infrastructure is to our economy. We have one of the leading voices from the business community sitting next to one of most high profile labor leaders and remarkably they are both saying the same thing: without robust and strategic investments in our roads and bridges, the US economy will not achieve the growth necessary to get us out of our current economic crisis and we will have trouble competing with other countries.
Without the investments and vision needed to build the interstate system, our country would not be the economic power it has been for the last 50 years. Much of our interstate is at the end of its useful life and needs to be rebuilt. On top of this, truck traffic will double over the next 30 years and car traffic will increase by 70% over the next 45 years. To accommodate this demand and begin to address our current levels of congestion, hundreds of billions of dollars are needed to build new roads and expand existing roads.
I'd like to end with some comments on the President's budget proposal for the highway bill, which was released on Monday. I was hoping for some positive leadership by the Administration after only paying lip service to our crumbling roads and bridges. Sadly, the President failed to step up and show any leadership. He failed to specify how he would pay for his mammoth $556 billion proposal. Instead he punts, saying his higher trust fund revenue is "a placeholder and do not assume an increase in gas taxes or any specific proposal to offset surface transportation spending. Rather, they are intended to initiate a discussion about how the Administration and Congress could work together on a bipartisan basis to pass a surface transportation reauthorization...."
This puts us back in the hole former House Democrats dug last Congress: proposing a huge bill with no way to pay for it. This is flat out irresponsible. If he were serious about getting a bill done, he would have either cut spending or said how he is going to pay for it. I can only call this a setback. It gives false hope to transportation advocates and leaves Congress in the same box as before the budget was released. This comes almost exactly 2 years after the failed, so-called stimulus bill, which was sold as having primarily an infrastructure focus, but ended up with only 3 percent of the total going to roads and bridges. Here we go again.
On top of all this, the President proposes destroying the Highway Trust Fund. He wants to open it up to pay for a number of things currently not eligible for funding, including Amtrak, high speed rail, and a greater share of transit (which currently receives 20 percent of its funding from the general fund). The whole point of a trust fund is that users pay for the services they are getting. Not a single penny is paid into the trust fund by users of transit or Amtrak, nor does any high speed rail proposal include user fees deposited into the trust fund.
The current problem with the Highway Trust Fund is that we have gotten away from the user pays, user benefits concept and are providing a free lunch to too many unrelated activities. The Highway Trust Fund needs to focus its spending, not broaden it. I can't blame the President on this; he has been very clear about where his priorities lie. He is less interested in rebuilding our roads and bridges than in building street cars and bullet trains.
I think this budget proposal will make it harder for Congress to get a bill done. But as we are discussing today, it is imperative that we get a good bill done soon. So I am going to treat this budget as yet another obstacle we have to overcome to enact a responsible, budget neutral bill this year.