Joint Senate EPW and House T&I Committee Hearing Entitled:
"Improving and Reforming our Nation's Surface Transportation Programs
to Support Job Creation and the Economy"
February 23, 2011
(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
I want to offer a warm welcome to Congressman John Mica from Florida, who as Chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is my counterpart in the House of Representatives.
I'd also like to thank all the other Members who are here today. It's an impressive turnout.
We, as Members of Congress, represent urban areas and rural districts, and we cover the full political spectrum. Our witnesses who will testify today also bring a wide range of perspectives.
Although my colleagues in Congress may differ on some issues, we all agree that we must create more jobs and accelerate our economic recovery. So now is the time to roll up our sleeves and get to work on this transportation bill.
Surface transportation improvements will create jobs in the construction industry, which has been especially hard hit by the economic downturn. Nationwide, the construction industry has lost 130,000 jobs in the past year. Today there are nearly 2 million unemployed construction workers in the United States.
At a transportation hearing I held in Washington, D.C., a witness pointed out that we could fill nearly 20 stadiums the size of Cowboy Stadium, where the Super Bowl was played recently, with unemployed construction workers - for a total of nearly 2 million people.
This created such a powerful image in my mind that I wanted to share it with you.
(Note: Charts of stadiums containing a total of 2 million people were displayed)
One of the most effective, far-reaching ways to create jobs and get the economy back on track is to fix the nation's outdated infrastructure.
Our transportation systems used to be the best in the world, but investments have not kept up with needs, and now we are falling behind. The rest of the world is building infrastructure systems to move people and goods - and so must we.
Nowhere is the need to improve the movement of goods more critical than in California. For example, 45% of all containerized cargo destined for the continental U.S. passes through California's ports, and that number is going up. Traffic through West Coast ports alone is projected to nearly triple by 2035. Freight handled by trucks is expected to double during the same period.
These delays have a ripple effect across the nation. The longer it takes to move freight out of California, the longer communities and businesses across the United States must wait to receive those goods.
The additional costs and time delays are not the only harmful results of congestion. It is also a major contributor to increased transportation-related emissions, which foul the air we breathe, and create safety concerns on our clogged roads. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) attributes 2,400 premature deaths to diesel emissions, and it estimates that the health costs of diesel emissions could be as high as $200 billion by 2020.
By reducing congestion, we can improve air quality and public health. It is a problem that we must solve.
With that goal in mind, I have reached across the aisle and the Capitol building to find common ground. You may have heard that Chairman Mica and I decided to sit side by side at President Obama's State of the Union address last month. We sat together to highlight the fact that transportation is a bipartisan issue and that we will work together to get a surface transportation bill done this year.
In addition to Chairman Mica, I am also working closely with my Ranking Republican, James Inhofe. We are committed to working together to enact bipartisan legislation that makes the kind of transportation improvements this country needs for our economic recovery and long-term prosperity. Investment in infrastructure is an investment in America.
The effort to find common ground on this issue extends beyond the halls of Congress. Last week, my committee held a hearing that united business and union leaders in calling for investment in infrastructure. The President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Tom Donohue, and the President of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, testified in support of building a modern transportation system that will help our nation compete in the global economy.
The Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO don't always agree, so Mr. Donohue and Mr. Trumka's willingness to stand together in support of a strong surface transportation bill was a powerful signal. Putting Americans back to work and providing new business opportunities helps everyone, and today's hearing is another show of unity in support of infrastructure investment.
I was very pleased that Chairman Mica suggested holding this field hearing, because Los Angeles has been a leader in figuring out a way to leverage funds - and leveraging is crucial in these tough times. In fact, Mayor Villaraigosa will testify today about LA's 30/10 Initiative, which is a model for the nation.
This initiative will improve the local economy by creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, reduce carbon pollution emissions, and ease traffic congestion.
The 30/10 Initiative would speed up delivery of the transit projects funded by a local sales tax measure passed by the people of LA so those projects can be funded over 10 rather than 30 years -- hence the name "30/10 initiative." In essence, the federal government would front-load the funds, knowing that the revenues are coming to repay the U.S. Treasury at virtually no risk to federal taxpayers.
I have been looking at ways to build this type of leveraging with the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act -- also known as TIFIA. According to the Federal Highway Administration, every dollar made available through TIFIA can mobilize up to a total of $30 in transportation investments.
In these tough economic times, we know we have to reduce the deficit. That is why support is growing among businesses and communities, as well as on Capitol Hill, for expanding TIFIA and other programs that stretch the limited dollars we have available for these important projects.
I believe Chairman Mica shares my interest in better leveraging federal funds, but I know he is also interested -- as am I -- in reducing the time it takes to get a transportation project completed. Some of our witnesses will testify about ongoing efforts in California to speed up project delivery in ways that do not compromise our environment or public health.
Our witnesses today will discuss other key issues we must address in the next surface transportation bill.
A joint hearing of Senate and House committees is a rare event, and it indicates our shared view that there is an urgent need to improve the nation's crumbling transportation systems and get the economy back on track. Today's hearing is a positive step toward that goal.
Thank you all for being here today, and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.