WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing, “Infrastructure: The Road to Recovery.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery.
“Thank you Mr. Chairman, and thank you to our witnesses. I especially want to thank Mayor Greg Fischer for taking the time to be with us during a very difficult time for his city and our nation.
“The recent murders of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville have sparked widespread civil unrest across the country. Over the past week, literally millions of Americans have protested the deaths of unarmed Black Americans and the systemic racial inequities and injustices that still pervade too many aspects of our society.
“One of those Americans was David McAtee, a small business owner in Louisville who was shot and killed by authorities while he was protesting early Monday morning. According to his family, David McAtee was a pillar in the community and, at his popular barbeque stand, he would serve members of law enforcement for free. We have since learned that the police officers involved with National Guard personnel who shot and killed David McAtee had not activated their body cameras during the incident. This institutional failure has only created more feelings of anger, fear, frustration and helplessness throughout the Louisville community and our country.
“I know it will come as a surprise to some, but many of our fellow Americans are feeling real pain and suffering today and they have been feeling it for a long time.
“Meanwhile, our country is attempting to safely re-open and return to some semblance of normalcy in the midst of a deadly pandemic, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a hundred years, and we are facing the greatest economic downturn and highest unemployment rates since the Great Depression. And while most communities are calling for justice though law-abiding, peaceful protests, others have experienced violent riots and looting.
“I don’t believe it’s hyperbole to say that the soul of our nation is being tested as it hasn’t been in a long time. The unspoken question for us today is what do we do about it and what – if anything – does all of this have to do with improving our surface transportation infrastructure?
“I’m convinced that every member of this committee understands that it is our duty as public servants to serve all of our constituents, even the ones who haven’t voted for us and maybe never will. Right now, that means listening to those among us who have oftentimes gone unheard, to try and put ourselves in their shoes and to not only acknowledge the pain that many people of color are experiencing in this country and the racism that they face, but to do something about it. We can do that.
“In the midst of all of this turmoil lies opportunity. It’s our job to find it and work together to move this country which we love and revere – as imperfect as we are – forward. And that brings us to the subject of today’s hearing. Infrastructure can be part of a greater, multi-faceted solution that brings equity and opportunity to all of our communities, but where and how we invest matters.
“Infrastructure can refer to water that’s safe for us to drink when we turn on the faucet. It can refer to safely treating the effluent we create before it finds its way into our waterways and our ground water. Infrastructure can refer to broadband deployment for farm communities and many urban areas whose students have found it almost impossible to keep up with their schoolwork because they lack internet access.
“Today, we focus on a critically important part of our nation’s infrastructure – our roads, highways, bridges, railways and transit systems. I know we don’t always think of it this way, but they are not only important in moving all kinds of cargo across America, as well as giving the American people the freedom to go where they want and need to go.
“But our transportation infrastructure – done right -- can also help to connect and uplift communities by expanding access to opportunities such as schools and better paying jobs that may not have been accessible to those who always found themselves living on the wrong side of the tracks. That’s why we need to ensure that the infrastructure investments we make – and the roads, highways and bridges we build – help us create a nurturing environment for job creation and job preservation for all communities.
“In Delaware, for example, the construction of the soon-to-be-completed Christina River Bridge, just south of our Amtrak station, is helping to spur the redevelopment of South Wilmington. That’s an area of our city that is prone to flooding when heavy rainstorms occur like the ones we experienced last night.
“Fortunately, innovative measures are underway not just to help address the flooding, but also to improve connectivity for residents. This new bridge with pedestrian and bicycle lanes will expand access to new educational opportunities and jobs. Thousands of them. And while the bridge will facilitate and alleviate traffic in the area, it will also help to grow the customer base for small businesses along the burgeoning Christina Riverfront.
“This is just one example of the kind of win-win-win investments we can, and should, be making more of in our infrastructure – those with environmental, community and economic benefits. So, as we discuss here in Congress the many ways our country can begin to recover from this pandemic, and how we can help communities in need, it is ever more important and timely that we talk about investing in our nation’s infrastructure.
“The surface transportation reauthorization bill that we unanimously approved out of this committee in July – America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act – is a good start to addressing those two challenges. For example, our bill would increase highway funding by 17 percent over baseline in the first year, which would help stimulate the economy. At the same time, our bill would help address the climate crisis by investing $10 billion in low-emission and resilient transportation projects over the next five years.
“But, making those investments real requires dollars. Actually, for years, I’ve been talking with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle about how to fund infrastructure and the urgent need to address the looming Highway Trust Fund shortfall. But in a few short months, that conversation will become even more urgent. This pandemic has greatly affected the use of our nation’s infrastructure—and how we maintain funding for it.
“The public health safety measures demanded by this pandemic have greatly reduced travel. Our infrastructure is paid for largely through user fees, including tolls, motor fuel taxes, vehicle excise taxes and registration fees. All of these revenue sources have declined dramatically.
“A lot of states, cities, counties and tribal nations are trying right now to balance their budgets by deciding between furloughs, service cuts or canceling contracts. We owe it to them to reauthorize our surface transportation programs, and fund them in a sustainable and predictable way.
“All that said, while investing in infrastructure can assist with long-term economic recovery, it’s not sufficient on its own. This economic downturn is without modern precedent, and the coronavirus is likely to be with us for some time to come. So we must rise to meet the unique challenges and scale of these crises.
“Fortunately, in recent days and weeks, I have had conversations with dozens of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle – Democrats and Republicans alike – and there appears to be an emerging bipartisan agreement – not to reward fiscal mismanagement at the state and local level and not to bail out unfunded pension plans – but to do our part to help address the grave and unparalleled impact of this pandemic on state and local budgets, on school districts and our rural hospitals.
“We can provide some of the assistance that’s needed by continuing to invest strategically, and dependably, in the transportation infrastructure of our communities. If we do, I’m confident that we will find America off the ropes and back on the road to an economic recovery and a future that is stronger, more sustainable and more equitable for all of us.
“Let’s seize the day – ‘Carpe Diem’ – because from many we are one – ‘E pluribus unum.’”