Oversight Hearing on the Reauthorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act
March 19, 1997

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would like to welcome all of the witnesses that we will hear from this morning.

The purpose of today's hearing is to receive testimony on environmental programs and Statewide and metropolitan planning under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act. When it was enacted in 1991, ISTEA radically altered the focus of transportation policy. It recognized the integral role and enormous impact of surface transportation on the environments in which we live, work, and play. And for the first time, transportation decisions became part of a larger planning process that considers how transportation touches every corner of our lives.

I am delighted that the Administration has chosen to continue the important legacy of ISTEA. The NEXTEA proposal builds upon the strong record of its predecessor. I am particularly pleased that the Administration has chosen to increase funding for some of the key environmental programs of the original ISTEA such as the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality improvement program and Transportation Enhancements activities. Yesterday, Senator Moynihan and I introduced NEXTEA. While the bill is not perfect, it will serve as a sound foundation for bi-partisan legislation to address the nation's surface transportation needs.

Speaking of needs, we have heard a great deal of attention toward infrastructure needs alone. You are undoubtedly familiar with the arguments for more money to build and repair roads and bridges to preserve the nation's economic future. As much as transportation benefits society through the efficient mobility of people and goods, however, it is not without its costs. We cannot afford to ignore all of the consequences, good and bad, of our transportation system.

-more- Page 2

One of the major unintended consequences of mobility is its negative impact on the nation's air, water and land. The costs of air pollution that can be attributed to cars and trucks range from 30 billion to 200 billion dollars per year. Passenger cars alone account for almost 30 percent of the nation's total oil consumption. Highway construction and other transportation activities often pollute the nation's surface waters and groundwater. Vehicles and other infrastructure are also major sources of solid waste. It is therefore only appropriate that we tap the Highway Trust Fund to offset some of these formidable costs.

ISTEA provided States and localities with a set of tools to cope with the growing demands on our transportation system and the corresponding strain on our environment. The single largest source of flexible funds has been the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality improvement program. The CMAQ program provides more than six billion dollars nationwide over six years, to improve air quality in areas that do not meet Clean Air Act standards. These are the so-called "non-attainment areas." The entire State of Rhode Island is a non-attainment areas, so our share of this money, about five million dollars per year, can be spent anywhere in the State for projects that improve air quality. Examples could include bicycle and pedestrian facilities, or capital improvements to our transit systems.

ISTEA also established several programs to help preserve scenic resources. One tool is the National Scenic Byways Program, which provides 80 million dollars in grants to States over the six-year duration of the law. Its purpose is to maintain the scenic, historic, recreational, cultural, and archaeological characteristics of scenic byway corridors, while accommodating tourists. So far, the States have designated 34,000 miles of American roads as scenic byways. It is a small but significant program.

Another tool to help preserve our environmental and scenic resources is a provision that requires each State to spend ten percent of its Surface Transportation Program or STP funds on transportation enhancements. The enhancements program is designed to make the roads that go through our communities blend with and preserve our natural, social, and cultural environment. Some of the early Interstate construction provides a clear example of the destructive power a freeway can have on a community and its surrounding environment. To redress some of the damage highways have done in the past, enhancements money can be used for a variety of things, including the acquisition of scenic easements, historic preservation, bike paths, removing billboards, and mitigating stormwater runoff. -more- Page 3

In addition to creating flexible programs to offset some of the costs of transportation to the environment, ISTEA created a sound planning process. It strengthened the notion of partnership among State and local governments and all affected interests by elevating the role of the metropolitan planning organization in the planning process.

The Statewide and metropolitan planning provisions of ISTEA have yielded high returns by bringing all interests to the table and increasing the public's input into the decisionmaking process. As you know, it is not a simple task to resolve these competing and often conflicting demands.

Finding the right solutions to address all of our needs requires strategic and comprehensive approaches to transportation policy. Tunnel vision is downright risky as we move toward reauthorization. We must therefore ensure that our transportation system is maintained according to high national standards and that all of its elements are integrated into a coherent whole.

That is why today's hearing is so important. Initiatives established in ISTEA, such as the CMAQ program, transportation enhancements and the planning process, must be preserved to build the best transportation system for all Americans.