(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
On August 1, 2007, the collapse of the I-35 west bridge in Minneapolis claimed the lives of 13 and injured 145 people. This tragedy served as an urgent wake up call that we cannot neglect our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.
The current highway, transit and highway safety programs of SAFETEA-LU expire at the end of 2009.
Today we begin our process of developing a new authorization for those programs.
As we prepare for this new reauthorization, it is clear that continuing the current programs at their current funding levels is not sustainable, will not fix our nation’s crumbling infrastructure, will not meet the needs of our growing economy, and will not adequately address growing congestion.
With increased investment, we can improve goods movement, reduce congestion, improve air quality and quality of life, and provide the necessary infrastructure to support our growing economy.
Today we hear the recommendations of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission.
Congress charged the Commission with examining and then developing recommendations on the current condition and future needs of the surface transportation system, short-term funding sources and long-term alternatives to replace or supplement the gas tax as the principal source of revenue for the Highway Trust Fund.
In reviewing the Commission’s recommendations, it is clear to me that there is no easy answer to the challenges we face. But without action by the Federal government, our infrastructure will further deteriorate, congestion will increase, additional lives will be lost, and our economy will suffer.
Let’s look at some examples.
According to the Department of Transportation, the cost to our economy from traffic congestion alone is as high as $200 billion per year, and the Census Bureau expects a 50 percent population increase over the next 50 years.
Freight movement is expected to nearly double over the next 30 years, but traffic through West Coast ports could nearly triple over the same period.
If we don’t aggressively pursue safety improvements, more lives will be lost on U.S. roads. In 2006, almost 43,000 people died and 2.6 million were injured.
The consequences of inaction are not acceptable. We must meet our current and growing needs.
If we act, the Commission’s report suggests that by 2025 we could cut fatalities in half and reduce per-vehicle delay on major urban highways by 20 percent.
The Commission determined that we need to invest at least $225 billion annually from all levels of government and the private sector over the next 50 years to upgrade our surface transportation system and meet the needs of our economy. But this is not the only voice.
Mayor Bloomberg along with Governors Rendell and Schwarzenegger recently announced they are forming a non-partisan coalition to push for Federal infrastructure investment. They have recognized the Nation’s great need.
The Commission’s report is a significant contribution to the debate of future needs. It clearly states the Commission’s view of why it is vital to invest in surface transportation, and offers us recommendations on how our program should be structured.
Of course, identifying needs raises the questions of who pays and how. Unfortunately, the media coverage of the report has focused upon the call for a significant increase in the gas tax. This focus does a disservice to the findings and recommendations on the program.
The discussion on financing will explore a myriad of options – several of which are discussed in the report.
While the gas tax will continue to fund our surface program, we know that it is not a sustainable, long-term source of funding. Options could include private-sector investment, pricing through tolls and the like, and charges for vehicle miles traveled or VMT. Global warming and other important environmental considerations need to be integrated into our transportation planning.
Senator Dodd has proposed a National Infrastructure Bank that would identify and help finance infrastructure projects with bonds, and Warren Buffet has identified facilitating the sale of municipal bonds as a viable investment option for infrastructure.
Our job on this Committee is to identify the transportation needs of the Nation and develop an effective, efficient program to meet them. That is why we are here today.
I thank all the Commissioners for the many hours they spent developing this report. I particularly appreciate those who are with us today for taking the time to share the Commission’s findings with the Senate, and I look forward to hearing their testimony.
Secretary Peters, who chaired the Commission, is not with us today, but I ask unanimous consent that her statement be placed in the hearing record.
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