Click here to watch Chairman Barrasso’s remarks.  

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), delivered the following remarks at a committee hearing on “Improving America’s Transportation Infrastructure: The Road Forward.”

The hearing featured testimony from the Honorable Elaine Chao, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

For more information on Secretary Chao’s testimony click here.

Senator Barrasso’s remarks:

“Today we are welcoming the Secretary of Transportation, the Honorable Elaine Chao, to testify before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on our nation’s infrastructure needs.

“Madam Secretary, welcome to the committee.

“The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has always taken the lead on infrastructure issues in the Senate.

“When unveiled, other committees’ infrastructure proposals will increase funding and provide streamlining requirements for the construction of pipelines, rail, housing, and large urban projects of various kinds that may be privately financed through public-private partnerships, to name a few of the issues.

“However, our nation’s highways, roads and bridges should be a central component of any final infrastructure bill.

“It is up to our committee, in a bipartisan way, working with the Administration, to invest real dollars into existing highway formula and non-formula programs in a fiscally responsible way.

“In a recent hearing in this committee, Wyoming Department of Transportation Director Bill Panos stated in written testimony that: ‘using the current predominately formula-based FAST act approach to distribution would ensure both rural and urban states participate in the initiative. It would also help push the benefits of any new infrastructure initiative out to the public promptly.’

“I agree.

“Using the formula-based approach will expedite the delivery of additional infrastructure spending which will ensure highway projects for the public will be built faster, as opposed to adopting a new funding structure that is less understood by the stakeholders.

“Public-private partnerships can be effective in urban areas, but do not work for rural states like Wyoming, and other small and rural states represented on this committee.

“In February before this committee, Cindy Bobbitt, a Grant County, Oklahoma county commissioner, testified on behalf of the National Association of Counties.

“She stated in her written testimony the difficulties in rural areas being able to raise revenue to pay for infrastructure and the ever increasing costs of construction, when she stated: ‘In addition to facing growing demands for transportation investment and numerous limitations on local revenue sources, rural counties are encountering rising costs for transportation and infrastructure projects.’ She goes on ‘based on the American Road and Transportation Builders Association’s highway construction price index, the cost of construction, materials and labor for highway and bridge projects increased 44 percent between 2000 and 2013, outpacing the 35 percent increase in general inflation.’

“In part to help address cost concerns expressed by both rural and urban communities, this committee recently held a hearing calling for better, faster, cheaper, and as Senator Carper pointed out, smarter highway and road projects.

“Working with this Administration, and with you Madame Secretary, and with the members of this committee, we do need to find ways to get projects started faster, build better roads, and reduce costs.

“As I stated at the hearing, simplifying these processes will allow for construction companies to help start hiring and for workers to begin building faster.

“If we find ways to streamline review processes, we can initiate projects expeditiously.

“Less time and money and staff effort would need to be dedicated to regulatory compliance.

“When we find opportunities to streamline regulation, it enables state departments of transportation or other regulated entities to focus more closely on delivering transportation projects and programs and do a better job on them.

“This administration also has a role to play in correcting recent proposals that unnecessarily subjected rural state departments of transportation to the same rules as more densely populated states.

“The idea that combatting congestion should require Wyoming or Alaska or South Dakota to report on traffic volumes on roads that are infrequently traveled is a waste of valuable time and taxpayer resources. 

“Most importantly, meeting these requirements, meant for more urban areas, takes time and money and impacts a rural state's ability to complete projects.

“I also have concerns about long-standing barriers that exist at the federal level, at the Department of Transportation, and at the state level, that might interfere with application of technologies that can accelerate project delivery at lower costs.

“A June 2016 report by McKinsey and Company entitled ‘Imagining construction’s digital future,’ states that ‘large capital projects typically take 20 percent longer to finish and are up to 80 percent over budget.’

“One of the reasons stated is that the construction industry is one of the industries that is the least digitized.

“So modifying policies to allow for technological innovations, as identified in the report, such as designing with new materials, digital mapping, intelligence asset management, decision making, paperless projects, and other technologies, can save valuable taxpayer money and speed project construction.

“Technological innovations such as these are just common sense and must be allowed to be used.

“I believe we can work together in a bipartisan way to help our communities address their infrastructure needs.

“I look forward to working with the secretary and my colleagues to help accomplish these things.”