Opening Statement of Senator James M. Inhofe (As prepared for delivery):
I am relieved the Senate was able to work out a deal last night on the 30-day extension of the highway program. However, this is in no way a victory. This simply means that we will go back to the highway program being funded $1 billion a month lower than 2009 levels and living with the uncertainty of short-term extension. In fact, the states won't receive the new funding provided by this extension for close to a month-just when this extension is expiring. The House needs to move and pass the long-term extension the Senate sent over last week.
Before I get into today's hearing, I want to thank my good friend Gary Ridley, who is Oklahoma's Transportation Secretary, for coming out to Washington to help resolve this crisis. Gary is an asset to both Oklahoma and the nation.
There has been a lot of discussion recently about the impacts of infrastructure investment on the economy, so I thank the Chairman for having this hearing to clarify some misconceptions. For years, I have been leading the fight in Washington for increased investment in transportation and infrastructure, because I believe strongly that no other form of government spending is as beneficial to our citizens and the economy as infrastructure investment.
There is an undeniable link between a robust economy and strong transportation infrastructure investment. Yet, when it comes to other federal spending needs, transportation is often neglected as a priority-one only needs to look at the so-called "stimulus" bill to see evidence of this.
Despite the relatively small amount of highway investment in the stimulus bill, it is evident that highway investment is a proven job creator-much more so than any of the other of the Administration's so-called "stimulus" initiatives. Although I support increased infrastructure investment in any form, it is important to note that supplemental highway funding in the so called "jobs bill" is in no way a substitute for the short- and long-term economic necessity of a multi-year highway bill re-authorization.
As an author of SAFETEA in 2005, I know first-hand that infrastructure spending from a new highway bill is one of the most proven ways to stimulate the economy and create jobs. However, when we look at the benefits of infrastructure spending, we often focus solely on the immediate employment and economic benefits, which is only part of the story. The greatest impact is over the long-run-when the new roads and bridges add to productivity by improving mobility. I believe one of the most overlooked aspects of the post-World War II prosperity was the creation of the interstate highway system.
We simply can't continue to ignore the infrastructure crisis in this country. The Department of Transportation has estimated that the maintenance backlog on our nation's roads and bridges exceeds $600 billion. I have often said that, despite its large size, SAFETEA didn't even maintain the system we have. The previous estimate was just $500 billion-in other words, increases in the costs of steel, cement and higher wages, combined with chronic underinvestment, have put us into an even deeper hole.
We learned in many of our previous hearings that if we don't take dramatic action, growing congestion and deteriorating pavement conditions will choke the US economy. It is understandable in these dire economic times to measure investment decisions based on immediate results, but if we are going to continue to be the leader in the global economy, we need to take a much more strategic approach. We can no longer rely on transportation infrastructure investments made a generation ago.
As the rest of the world continues to finance new ports, highways, and sophisticated rail networks to attract new commerce, we are falling far behind, and our underinvestment means that our domestic industries are operating globally at a competitive disadvantage. If we fail to provide a free-flowing transportation system to accommodate the needs of our economy, our manufacturing industries will be forced to export their operations abroad.
I welcome our witnesses, and I look forward to hearing about their first-hand accounts of infrastructure investment's impact on the economy, as well as the consequences of continued underinvestment.