WASHINGTON, D.C. — On June 14, 2023, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing to examine the implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“Before we begin, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the disaster that occurred this past weekend just north of Philadelphia. On Sunday, a tanker truck carrying 8,500 gallons of gasoline caught fire on the off-ramp causing an overpass on I-95 to collapse.
“Administrator Bhatt has already been to the site of the crash and is working to support state officials as they restore mobility on this critical corridor. We would like to thank him, and the rest of his team at the Federal Highway Administration, for the important work they are doing. We appreciate him being here with us today.
“It has been a little more than two years since this committee unanimously marked up the highway bill that would go on to serve as the foundation for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. When we did, I noted that it included historic funding for our nation’s highway programs. I also noted that it contained the first-ever climate title.
“In our highway bill, we created the Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-Saving Transportation (PROTECT) program. We did so with the intent of improving the resilience of our transportation systems and reducing our vulnerability to extreme weather.
“We have all heard the old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That is certainly the case with investments in resilience. Building protective features and natural infrastructure helps transportation assets withstand disasters for years. And, the earlier those protections are in place, the greater the benefit will be.
“With that in mind, I’m pleased that the Federal Highway Administration is now accepting applications for the first round of PROTECT grants. It is my hope that the Federal Highway Administration works quickly to award these program funds and begins to improve the resilience of communities nationwide.
“Our bill also created dedicated programs to develop electric vehicle charging networks. It also included a 70 percent increase in funding for programs to build safe, accessible pedestrian and bicycle pathways across our nation. In addition, our surface transportation bill authorized the Reconnecting Communities program. This was the first-ever federal program to address the safety and pollution impacts of highways that have divided and hurt neighborhoods across our nation.
“Importantly, not only did our highway bill focus on the critical issues of climate, safety, and equity, but it did so in a lasting, bipartisan way.
“During that markup two years ago, I also noted that the infrastructure bill alone was not enough to address climate change. Once we passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we got to work on legislation that eventually became the Inflation Reduction Act.
“The Inflation Reduction Act authorized several new programs under the purview of the Federal Highway Administration. This included a program to reduce the industrial emissions from construction materials, as well as funding to facilitate efficient environmental review and permitting times. The Inflation Reduction Act also provided funds to mitigate air, noise, and water pollution and other impacts of highway infrastructure on disadvantaged communities.
“Together, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act represent the most significant investment in clean energy and transportation infrastructure, equity, and climate resilience in our nation’s history.
“Still, there is no shortage of work that remains to be done. There are key questions that the Federal Highway Administration must address around implementation, regulation, and guidance.
“That is why I am delighted to welcome my friend, Shailen Bhatt, here before us today. This is his first time before our committee since the Senate confirmed his nomination to be Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration by a voice vote in December 2022. We look forward to hearing his testimony today about the extensive work that he has led in the past six months.
“As I noted, Congress provided the Federal Highway Administration with historic funding and the authorities necessary to revitalize highways across America. The agency must also use its regulatory authority to address ongoing needs. One such need for regulation is to help reduce emissions from our transportation sector, which accounts for nearly 30 percent of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions—the largest single source in our economy.
“Last July, the Federal Highway Administration proposed a rule that would require states and metropolitan areas to measure their performance on greenhouse gas emissions and set targets to reduce those emissions. Once finalized, this will be a critical tool to steer infrastructure investments toward better climate outcomes, and I hope that the agency will move quickly to finalize that rule.
“Finally, I would like to emphasize the importance of improving safety. Last year, nearly 43,000 people tragically lost their lives on our nation’s roads—the highest number in 16 years.
“The U.S. Department of Transportation has taken an important step toward this goal by releasing its National Roadway Safety Strategy, which set a goal of zero fatalities for U.S. roads for the first time.
“Still, there is more work that the Federal Highway Administration can and should be doing to prioritize safety. This includes working with states and metropolitan areas to plan streets that are safe for all users and choosing roadway designs that don’t encourage speeding and other unsafe behaviors.
“With that, we look forward to hearing about the work that Administrator Bhatt has done—and will continue to do—to advance these priorities.”