Opening Statement of Sen. James M. Inhofe, Ranking Member:
Thank you Madam Chairman for calling this hearing, and thank you to all our witnesses for joining us today. I’d like to extend a special welcome to Oklahoma State Senator Bryce Marlatt, who represents the northwest area of the state. I know he has a great interest in transportation issues, and I look forward to hearing his comments.
As we make decisions for the next surface transportation bill, we will need to keep asking ourselves, “What is the federal role?” This nation’s needs far exceed the available funding, so we must focus federal funds on addressing areas that have a defined federal responsibility with national benefits.
Over the past year or so, many organizations have offered ideas for the next transportation bill, including on congestion and other mobility issues in metropolitan areas. The problems are real and documented, as the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) will detail in testimony for us. The solutions are less clear, but certainly they are not the same in all areas.
Any emphasis on addressing metropolitan congestion problems must be based on the recognition that Washington does not understand the unique problems or the best solutions to those problems in individual areas. I think the Chairman would agree with me that what works in Tulsa may not work in Los Angeles. The strategies implemented in Portland may not be workable in Missoula. Any federal efforts in this area should be structured to provide federal assistance for federal responsibilities, while not attempting to force all areas to fit within any particular approach.
Along the same lines, the next transportation bill must continue to recognize that the transportation needs of rural America, though different in many ways, are just as real as those of our urban areas. I think a number of the proposals we’ve seen so far have ignored this fact, so I am particularly pleased that this hearing will focus on both urban and rural transportation needs.
Obviously, the Oklahoma Panhandle does not have the congestion problems of New York City. In the Panhandle, the important issues are the connectivity of businesses and the mobility of its citizens. Though, here too we must remember that not all rural communities have the same specific concerns. As with our urban areas, we must not try to force Washington “solutions” on all rural communities without regard to their specific situations. We must focus federal investment on federal responsibilities - while not making the mistake of assuming that solutions to urban problems are needed or appropriate in our rural communities.
The Administration has been pushing transportation and housing initiative called “livability,” which I believe is nothing more than code for transit-oriented development. While details of the proposed program are still lacking, what I have heard so far makes me believe that the goal of this program is to move people to urban centers where transit options will negate the need to own a car. This is exactly the type of centralized decision-making and land-use planning that I oppose. The federal government should not be trying to tell communities what transportation solutions they need or should want.
Again, I thank you Madam Chairman for holding this hearing focusing on both urban and rural transportation needs. I look forward to discussing these issues with our witnesses.