WASHINGTON - Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the hearing, “Improving America’s Transportation Infrastructure: The Road Forward.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“First, let me welcome Secretary Elaine Chao and congratulate you on your appointment and confirmation as Secretary of Transportation. Thank you for appearing before our committee today. We’re happy to have you here in the Environment and Public Works Committee in what is your first hearing since your confirmation as Secretary. I hope this will be the first of many times that we can come together to identify issues and solutions to improve our transportation system, which I know is a priority that all of us share. You have taken a leadership role at a critical juncture for transportation.
“In just over three years, we will face an insolvency crisis for the Highway Trust Fund. We face this crisis in large part because we haven’t raised the gas and diesel taxes in 24 years or adjusted them for inflation. Revenues have stayed flat, while the construction costs to build roads and bridges keep increasing. We managed to pay for the FAST Act in 2015 by pilfering $70 billion from other accounts. According to the Congressional Budget Office estimates, we’ll need to find $115 billion in 2020 in order to continue providing the same level of funding plus inflation for the next five-year bill. In fact, when we take up the next transportation bill, we will need to do a lot more than maintain our current level of spending.
“Plain and simple, the amount that we’re spending today is woefully short of what we should be spending if we want to have the roads, highways and bridges that our country and its people need. We face an $836 billion backlog of good highway and bridge projects, and we have a $90 billion backlog for transit. The underinvestment shows in the condition of our assets. The 2017 report card from Society of Civil Engineers gives roads in this nation a D, and our transit systems receive a D minus. Spending on transportation at almost all levels of government must increase, and the federal government should lead the way.
“That is why I was heartened to hear President Trump’s campaign pledge to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure. I hope that, when the administration finally releases its proposal, it will include plans for direct spending to address this investment backlog. When we invest in transportation, we also have to choose investments wisely in order to make the best use of scarce federal dollars. Some of the changes made by this committee in the last two authorization bills—oftentimes referred to as ‘streamlining’ – will help improve transportation planning and project delivery. Unfortunately, many of these changes have not yet been implemented by the Department of Transportation, and the rules have been put on hold for the past few months. I sincerely hope that you and your team will focus on ensuring a fast and effective implementation of the remaining MAP-21 and FAST Act provisions.
“The transportation world today also faces a grave safety challenge. Last year, more than 40,000 people lost their lives on our roads. Over the last two years, this number has increased more quickly than at any other time in the last half-century. As you know, safety is a central part of the mission of the Department of Transportation, and I hope you will make it part of your personal mission as Secretary.
“In short, there is no shortage of challenges ahead. We know that. But where there is adversity, there is also opportunity. An important part of our jobs is to find it. New technology and innovation in vehicles has the potential to dramatically improve safety and increase the efficiency of our roadways. Advances in construction materials will enable us to build infrastructure that is stronger, lighter, less expensive, and more sustainable. I am also hopeful that innovation can help point the way toward a new source of revenue or a means of collecting road user charges in a secure and cost-effective way.
“In closing, let me reiterate that we look forward to your testimony, to working with you, with USDOT and with a multitude of stakeholders across America in the days ahead. Today though, we look forward to hearing your testimony and to joining with you in a fruitful and productive conversation. The American people want us to work together to address our transportation woes, and that’s what I want to do, as well.”