Thursday, January 31, 2008

Senate Hearing On National Surface Transportation Report

Jan 31: The Senate Environment and Pubic Works Committee, Chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) held a hearing entitled, “A Hearing to Receive the Report of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission.” On January 15, 2008, the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission released its major report entitled, Transportation for Tomorrow, prepared by the specially convened Commission, under Section 1909 of the Safe Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act -- A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). The Report includes detailed recommendations for creating and sustaining a pre-eminent surface transportation system in the United States [See WIMS 1/15/08].

The Commission's report concluded: "The Commission concludes that the current Federal surface transportation programs should not be 're-authorized' in their current form. We must begin anew. This New Beginning is the dawn of the third era in the modern history of the Federal surface transportation program."

Witnesses testifying at the hearing included: the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP; the Wisconsin Department of Transportation; BNSF Railway Company; and The Skancke Company. Senator Boxer and Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) both delivered opening statements.

Senator Boxer said in part, "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... 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... 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... 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 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..."

Access the hearing website and link to all testimony, opening statements, webcast and related information (click here). Access the complete 258-page report or individual sections (click here). Access the Commission's website for extensive background information (click here). [*Transport]