Statement of John Wagner, Jr.
Wagner Industries, Inc., and
Chairman, Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, Surface Transportation Committee
ISTEA Reauthorization
March 26, 1997

Thank you. Good afternoon. I am John Wagner, President of Wagner Industries, a trucking, warehousing and logistics firm employing more than 600 people in Kansas City. I am third generation in the family business that started in Kansas City's west bottoms in 1946. This year I have the privilege to chair the Chamber's Surface Transportation Committee. The Chamber is pleased to have the honor of appearing before so distinguished a panel to discuss such important legislation.

A healthy transportation industry is vital to the economic well-being of the nation. That is no less true in Kansas City, a town founded on transportation and distribution. Transportation remains a vital industry. More than 40,000 individuals are employed as a result of Kansas City's transportation industry with a payroll of more than $2 billion. The impact on regional output and gross regional product amounts to about $5 billion and 3.3 billion respectively.

What is unique in Kansas City, however, and what makes it strong is that its employment is spread over a variety of sectors and a large number of employers. Take the trucking industry, for instance. Of the nearly 700 trucking companies in our region, more than 600 employ fewer than 50 people. Kansas City is a hub for nine major rail lines. Kansas City International Airport is one of four area airports with freight operations and is the busiest air cargo facility by tonnage in a six-State region. More than 40 barge terminals and docks support river shipping and more than 400 miles of highway give Kansas City more highway miles per capita than any U.S. city. In addition, area businesses have invested in more than 1,500 miles of fiber optic cable beneath the city streets to speed the exchange of shipping and other data. We are at the vanguard of Intelligent Transportation Systems and have been the model of bi-State cooperation.

Having said that, there are some priorities we believe need to be addressed as a part of the transportation policy being considered in this year's Congress. They are not the result of think-tank research. They are basic and fundamental.

First, integrity needs to be restored to the transportation trust funds. There is no better way to make Federal funds productive than to spend them on infrastructure. With billions of dollars being paid in good faith by people who use transportation amenities, there are ample funds collected to facilitate the movement of goods and people in the United States and to grow its economy. This is an appropriate time to indicate the Chamber's support for measures such as the Bond/Chafee Highway Trust Fund Integrity Act. This bill ensures money collected for highways will be used for highways.

But that bill is a first step. Beyond that it is important that the 4.3 cents currently being collected for deficit reduction be transferred to the Highway Trust Fund. We believed it was bad public policy to utilize highway user fees for deficit reduction be transferred to the Highway Trust Fund. We believe it was bad public policy to utilize highway user fees for deficit reduction when it was done, and we continue to believe it today.

Next, it is unconscionable that the nation's transportation investment has been allowed to deteriorate the way it has. I would be a poor businessperson if I didn't maintain my warehouses and vehicles and other equipment. It is even worse stewardship that the Federal Government continues a policy that promotes and rewards new construction rather than maintenance and preservation of a transportation system that is already pretty darn good. Studies have shown the exponential costs associated with repair or replacement of facilities compared to the cost of simple maintenance. The nation's transportation policy should encourage communities to maintain assets rather than to simply build new ones.

Along the same lines, the nation has invested billions of dollars on transportation assets from coast to coast yet has done little to connect those assets technologically or economically. Kansas City is pursuing a vision as a non-traditional inland port for world goods. We believe the inland assets already in place here combined with a strong work force and ample space make it a logical reliever for traditional ports of entry that are strained beyond capacity. An intermodal and high-tech strategy to relieve congestion at the borders by utilizing inland facilities should be considered as part of the nation's transportation strategy.

Another simple but important transportation policy question that needs to be finally settled is a commitment to inland waterways and navigation, including the adherence to existing Federal policy and operating manuals. Sometimes we wonder why it's so hard for certain individuals to grasp the relevance of waterways and their relationship to price for transportation. Of course, the Missouri River has not met its potential for moving goods. It has never had a predictable season. Its ports and terminals have received minimal public investment, and the long-range plan for locks and dams was never completed. Still, it makes a difference in millions, perhaps billions, of dollars annually in the cost of moving goods due to its competitive influence. This is money saved by producers and consumers. It would be an international embarrassment to further curtail shipment on the Missouri River.

We are thankful to have a watchdog in the Senate in Senator Bond on this matter.

Finally, and in summary, we urge Congress to not allow the Washington bureaucracy to continue thinking departmentally concerning transportation and to adequately fund maintenance and completion of the nation's freight infrastructure.

Thank you for your thoughtful attention to these remarks.