WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the hearing, “Addressing America’s Surface Transportation Infrastructure Needs.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“I’d like to begin today by thanking Chairman Barrasso for calling this hearing and for signaling an interest in working seriously toward a long-term surface transportation reauthorization in the next Congress. I have long believed that infrastructure is an area where our committee can lead in a bipartisan fashion. We proved that it’s possible to come together and reach compromise on important legislation that helps our country when this committee passed the Water Resources bill that was signed into law last month.
“I believe that next year we’ll have another opportunity to work on legislation that improves the state of our nation’s infrastructure. Our committee’s minority members and our staffs are ready to go to work with our Republican brethren when the new Congress convenes in a little more than a month. I say that knowing that we face significant challenges in reauthorizing our surface transportation programs, the most important of which is the need to identify sustainable sources of funding to address the growing deficit in the Highway Trust Fund.
“In the last decade, Congress had to transfer more than $140 billion dollars into the Highway Trust Fund because the trust fund revenues were insufficient to meet our investment needs. Additionally, Congress resorted to passing more than a dozen short-term extensions of the transportation programs in the past decade, which created significant uncertainty for state and local transportation agencies, adding to cost.
“Funding uncertainty leads States to stop or slow down many projects. If highway authorization expires or funding runs out, the Federal Highway Administration is unable to reimburse states for federal-aid projects already under way, making it impossible to approve new projects. As we begin work on a new authorization of the Federal programs, one of our primary goals should be to avoid another series of short-term extensions going forward. That means having a bill passed before our current authorization expires in 2020.
“Albert Einstein once said ‘In adversity lies opportunity.’ I believe that the opportunities to improve our transportation programs in the next few years are great, despite the difficulties we will face along the way. New technology and data will enable us to modernize how we plan, build, operate, and use our infrastructure. We should look for ways to ensure Federal programs support innovations that improve mobility, safety, air quality and other goals, as well.
“We cannot have a conversation about surface transportation without talking about climate change and the increasingly extreme weather that accompanies it. Our transportation sector is a major contributor to climate change, and our roads, bridges, and railways are also extremely vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather fueled by climate change. According to the National Climate Assessment report released last week by 13 federal agencies, ‘Expected increases in the severity and frequency of heavy precipitation events will affect inland infrastructure in every region, including access to roads, the viability of bridges, and the safety of pipelines.’ Our next infrastructure bill must respond to this threat by focusing on a more resilient and sustainable transportation sector to protect communities nationwide.
“Safety is another area where we demands our closer attention. Motor vehicle crashes have consistently been the leading cause of preventable deaths in our country, overtaken only recently by the opioid epidemic. More than 37,000 people are killed on our roadways each year. We cannot continue to just accept this level of loss. Safety must be a top priority, and our investment decisions must reflect that prioritization.
“In closing, let me reiterate that I’m encouraged by the bipartisan consensus on the need to invest in our infrastructure. I truly hope this will be the first of many opportunities to engage in a bipartisan discussion to identify areas of agreement where we can work together, which – as we all know -- is a primary reason our constituents sent us here in the first place.
“I want to welcome each of our witnesses and thank you for joining us today to begin that conversation. We look forward to hearing your perspectives.”