Floor Statement of Senator Jim Jeffords
Highway Bill Debate When you live in Vermont, you must endure a long, hard winter. To keep spirits up, a Vermonter will look for signs of Spring, sometimes in the most unlikely places. One leading indicator of brighter days ahead is a phenomenon known as the frost heave. As temperatures rise, highways begin to buckle, producing humps in the road that rattle your teeth and mangle your shocks. Highway workers post bright orange signs to warn drivers of upcoming frost heaves. To a Vermonter, these signs are like the first flowers in bloom. As the seasonal change unfolds, the frost heaves recede and the paved roads return to their more normal state. Unfortunately, that is often a state of disrepair. Bridges share this sorry condition, due to effects of weather, wear and tear. The cure is major maintenance, reconstruction or replacement. But that costs money. A lot of money. For more than three years now we have been working to reauthorize the Highway program – because our transportation challenges are many. The bill before us is a good one, it may not include all the funding it deserves, but it does move us forward. This bill addresses many very important issues facing our roads and highways. Safety is my highest priority. Last year, Vermont experienced the highest number of fatalities on its highways since 1998. Ninety-seven people died in automobile crashes, up from 69 in 2003. Nationally, we have made real progress on highway safety over the last 10 years. According to the US Department of Transportation, the rate of fatalities has declined from 1.9 to 1.5 deaths per million vehicle miles traveled. But the number of fatalities has held steady at roughly 42,000 per year. That number is unacceptable. This bill is not only an investment in our highways, it is an investment in public safety. And we know congestion in this country is bad and getting worse. Congestion costs Americans more than $69.5 billion dollars annually in lost time and productivity. 5.7 billion gallons of fuel are wasted each year while motorists sit in traffic. One way to reduce congestion is to move goods by freight and we are moving more freight in this country than ever before. The forecast for future demand is daunting, with US DOT projecting that the volume of freight will increase 70 percent by 2020. This bill will expand freight capacity through new partnerships, investments and market financing techniques. The highway program expired nearly two years ago, and the states have been operating under series of short-term extensions. This has disrupted construction programs, delayed safety improvements and interrupted funding to transit operators. It is time to act on this bill. The next sign of spring in Vermont after the frost heave is something known as mud season. You can tell from the name that it’s not a lot of fun. Moving a highway bill over the coming weeks will feel at times like mud season. But at the other end, a brighter day. Mr. President, I yield the floor.