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Ranking Member Vitter Hearing Summary Statement
Full Committee Hearing “Implementing MAP-21’s Provisions to Accelerate Project Delivery”
September 18, 2013

Thank you, Chairman Boxer, the members of our Committee who are here today, and our witnesses for appearing before us.

It's good to again be having hearings on transportation infrastructure. These hearings show our committee's commitment to ensuring the proper implementation of MAP-21. They also show the importance of a reliable infrastructure to our nation.

Just over a year ago, MAP-21 was signed into law. It not only took some major steps in improving how we invest in this nation's transportation infrastructure but also made critical reforms to ensure that we stretch taxpayer dollars and push for greater efficiencies in our infrastructure policy.

Such reforms included empowering local decision-making, consolidating programs to promote flexibility, and accelerating the delivery of our infrastructure projects.

Today's hearing focuses on the acceleration of project delivery. It will examine the implementation of one of the most critical components of reform in MAP-21. More broadly, it will examine a policy that has been a bipartisan focal point of the last three highway authorization bills.

We all agree that our infrastructure permitting processes are inefficient. Creating a system that ensures the efficient and timely delivery of our transportation infrastructure is a critical component of promoting a strong national economy. An efficient process is fundamental to the planning and execution of infrastructure. It promotes and sustains economic development, reduces uncertainty for community and stakeholders and boosts taxpayer confidence that we are spending limited dollars in an appropriate manner.

Recently there has been a lot of focus on the investment side of the infrastructure equation. Perhaps just as important is the focus of today's hearing where we are examining what steps can be taken to stretch taxpayers' dollars and provide a more effective delivery of that infrastructure.

The demand for speeding up the permitting process, especially with reforms to NEPA, played a significant role in the passage of MAP-21. Among the many bipartisan provisions of this bill, we had bipartisan agreement that something needed to be done to improve project delivery.

The desire for reform grew from the frustration of projects stuck in bureaucratic purgatory. In Louisiana, the Houma-Thibodaux to LA 3127 Connection is a perfect example. This is a project designed to serve as a primary north-south artery to provide direct access to the I-10 corridor and serve as a critical evacuation route during emergency and disaster events.

As you can see, this project has been bogged down in the EIS process for over nine years with no end in sight. After a costly process, the project has gone through 25 NEPA steps but is yet to produce one job.

Before the passage of MAP-21 there was a growing consensus on all levels of government and throughout the stakeholder community that the project delivery and NEPA process was broken and in desperate need of reform.

• The average delivery of a major highway project was 14 years from start to finish.

• Of that, the average time for environmental review for major transportation project had increased to a staggering 8 years in 2011 - up from 3.5 years in 2000.

• In spite of the fact that the average Environmental Impact Statement spanned 22 pages in length when NEPA was first written, today's highway projects often saw environmental documents of more than 1,000 pages.

Those numbers are unacceptable and translate into increased in increased costs, long delays, congestion and the loss of economic opportunity.

Because we recognized these problems existed, we included substantial changes to help accelerate project delivery in MAP-21.

We included provisions to allow for expedited review when infrastructure is destroyed by an emergency or disaster. We instituted deadlines and put conflict resolution processes in place to ensure that there is accountability when project face delay. We also included provisions that look to eliminate duplicative reviews and turn over some authorities to states.

With the passage of MAP-21, we are hopeful that we have put in place reforms to cut red tape at the same time we ensure that we protect the environment. It is now critical to ensure that the reforms in MAP-21 are properly implemented in a timely manner and consistent with congressional intent.

In doing so, DOT needs to set concrete target dates for the implementation of both specific provisions and overall implementation. Providing such accountability throughout the process will go all way towards promoting transparency and showing progress towards reform.

While the majority of the MAP-21's NEPA reforms are still being put into place, some of the reforms are already revealing how effective they can be.

Last Sunday, Washington reopened its new I-5 bridge - just four months after its collapse - due in large part to MAP-21's provision to allow projects damaged by an emergency situation the ability to use an expedited NEPA process when building the replacement.

In addition, projects such as I-69 in Indiana, the Highway 62 Corridor in Oregon, the Illiana Parkway in Illinois, and the I-90 Avalanche Bridges in Washington have all benefited from another MAP-21 provision that allows for documents to be published concurrently - a simple step that can cut months off the bureaucratic process.

These are real examples of projects that have benefitted from provisions in the bill that have been fully implemented. I anticipate we will hear some of the witnesses suggest that parts of MAP-21 are overly cumbersome and will have unintended, negative consequences. They will likely criticize portions of the bill that have not been fully implemented. In those instances, I would urge caution when using hypotheticals. As we will hear, only a small portion of this bill has been fully implemented and those portions are already working to reduce project delays.

While a sound sustainable highway trust fund provides some certainty, you can't create jobs, start economic growth and begin to meet our infrastructure obligations if we aren't approving and building projects.

As we move into more comprehensive discussions of our transportation infrastructure needs, we must continue to look for ways to reform and expedite the project delivery process.

Again, I thank the chair and the witnesses for their hard work. I look forward to hearing your perspectives and working together to properly implement the reforms to NEPA and the delivery process of our transportation infrastructure.

 

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