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Opening Statement of Senator James Inhofe

Senate Environment and Public Works Full Committee

Goods Movement on Our Nation’s Highways

Thursday, May 8, 2008

  Thank you, Chairman Boxer.  I appreciate the opportunity to examine the movement of goods on our nation’s highways and its contributions to our future competitive trade advantage with other nations.  There is no denying that the level of commitment to our nation’s infrastructure is directly linked to the United States’ continued place as the world economic leader.   Thus, I am pleased, Madame Chairman, that you have convened this hearing to examine the role of freight movement on our nation’s highways.  

When President Eisenhower first conceived the National Interstate System over 50 years ago he could not have imagined that the nation’s transportation system, once coveted by the world for its innovative planning and connectivity, would be struggling to accommodate the exponential growth in people and goods movement of today.  Much of our industrial success and our rapidly growing GDP is the result of our “just in time economy,” which relies heavily on a free flowing transportation network. Our nation’s roads and bridges move close to $40 billion worth of goods daily, and with that number expected to rapidly increase with the growth in foreign trade and doubling of American port capacity, our infrastructure problem will soon be a crisis. 

Our expansive network of highways is operating well above its designed capacity, and as trucks continue to be delayed by congestion, which DOT estimates as an $8 billion loss every year, our economy will suffer. As I have said many times before, current funding of our highway program is barely enough to maintain the system, let alone provide for much needed new comprehensive investment in future infrastructure needs.  We cannot afford to ignore the consequences of barely “maintaining” our transportation networks while the rest of the world continues to spend heavily on bigger and better ways of competing with our once superior highway system.   

The rest of the world is financing new ports, highways, and sophisticated rail networks to attract new commerce, yet we are falling behind.   There is no question that there will be a negative impact on our own industries if we fail to provide a free flowing transportation system.  Today, business has moved away from a warehousing business model to a “just in time” model that depends on getting what they need when they need it.   If we want to encourage our manufacturing industries to stay in this country, one of the things we must do is provide adequate transportation infrastructure. 

Our neighbors to the North and South are committing billions to the construction of new high capacity ports and rail systems specifically to divert foreign cargo trade away from our heavily congested ports in the Northeast and Southern California.  The United States’ economy cannot afford to be outpaced in infrastructure spending by other rapidly growing countries, eager to attract new commerce to their economies. The reliable and free flowing movement of goods on our nation’s highways is, in my opinion, of the strongest federal interest.  

There is no more important role of federal government as it relates to transportation than to address the needs that affect the vitality of our interstate commerce, and our economy as a whole.  As we gear up for re-authorization of the Highway Bill, it is critical that we explore the ideas of a new national freight movement program. It is time for a new vision on how we address the exponential growth of goods movement, and I think it is time to seriously consider a separate program dedicated to freight. 

 As we begin reauthorization discussions, my hope is that we will be able to work together in developing solutions to our critical transportation infrastructure needs which may include making bold changes to the traditional federal highway program.