SENATOR GEORGE V. VOINOVICH
Committee on Environment and Public Works
Hearing on the National Surface
Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission
January 31, 2008
Mrs. Chairman, I am pleased that you are holding this hearing today. I would like to thank the Commissioners for being here and for all your hard work and strong leadership in putting together this report.
Federal transportation policy is of particular importance to my state because Ohio has one of the largest surface transportation networks in the country. The state of Ohio has the 10th largest highway network, the fifth highest volume of traffic, the fourth largest interstate system and the second largest number of bridges. 14 percent of all freight that moves in the United States moves in, through, or out of Ohio – the third greatest amount of any state.
Throughout my career, I have worked to increase funding for infrastructure. As Governor, during ISTEA, I fought to increase Ohio’s rate of return from the Highway Trust Fund from 80 percent to 85 percent. In 1998, as Chairman of the National Governors Association, I was involved in negotiating TEA-21 and I fought to even out highway funding fluctuations and assure a predictable flow of funding to states.
During consideration of SAFETEA-LU, I pushed for increased funding. I thought the total funding levels were well below what was appropriate and necessary for the nation’s infrastructure needs. Even, the Federal Highway Administration acknowledged that more funding was needed. In 2004, Federal Highways stated that the average annual investment level needed to improve our highways and bridges would be $118.9 billion. The average annual investment level necessary to just maintain the current condition and performance of highways and bridges would be $77.1 billion.
I predicted that the money spent from that authorization bill would not be enough. Sadly, I was right. Because of the rising costs of construction and energy, the purchasing power from SAFETEA-LU has significantly declined. As a result, highway projects have had to be cancelled and states and locals have had to step-up and assume more of the financial burden, and they are doing so at a time when many states are projecting severe budget shortfalls.
I have been looking forward to reading this report for a long time. If any of you think that we can deal with these problems without more money, you are being intellectually dishonest. And, I hope the next president understands this clearly.
Recently, we have been talking about putting together an economic stimulus package to jumpstart the economy. I think our failure to invest in the improvements necessary to keep pace with our growing population and increasing demands is one of the roadblocks standing in the way of moving our economy forward. Investing in our nation’s transportation could create hundreds of thousands of jobs and move our sluggish economy down the road to recovery. Manufacturing states, such as Ohio with a "just-in-time" economy, cannot be competitive with failing infrastructure where traffic congestion and bottlenecks in our rails and waterways is the norm. I am very encouraged that this report recognizes the link between our infrastructure and our ability to compete in the global market.
As Ranking Member of the Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee, I am well aware of the important relationship between highway planning and air quality. I am pleased that this report emphasizes environmental stewardship and recommends more state flexibility on funding efforts to improve our air quality.
I have always been a champion of public private partnerships. The Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, which Senators Carper, Clinton and I championed during the energy bill and last highway bill, is a great example of this. The federal government provides funding for private entities to retrofit their vehicles to help reduce emissions. One of the findings of the report was that public private partnerships should play an important role in financing our national surface transportation system and for reducing our energy consumption. I hope that we can encourage this in the next authorization bill.
I also support the Commission’s recommendations on improving and streamlining the delivery of transportation projects. As a former Governor and Mayor, I have been frustrated at how long it can take to finish a highway project from beginning to end. In fact, during my first Senate campaign — as part of my platform, I pledged to reduce this timeframe. I am pleased that this report acknowledges this lag time—major projects take nearly 13 years on average to complete. During the last highway bill, we tried to expedite the environmental review process but there are still many improvements that need to be made as the report recognizes.
This report echoes what I have been saying for years—it’s the government’s role to provide the infrastructure for American business, and unless we develop an infrastructure of competitiveness, our children and grandchildren will not be able to enjoy the same standard of living and quality of life that we have enjoyed.
The American people must be made aware of the infrastructure challenges our nation faces. Hopefully, with your participation, Commissioners, our hearing today can shed more light on this critical issue.