Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Senate Second Hearing On Surface Transportation Commission Report

Feb 6: The Senate Environment and Pubic Works Committee, Chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) held a hearing entitled, Perspectives on the Surface Transportation Commission Report. The hearing is the second by the Committee on the recent Transportation for Tomorrow report of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission released on January 15, 2008. The report was 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 1/31/08].

Witnesses testifying at the second hearing included: Mary Peters, Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation; the Secretary for the Kansas Department of Transportation; the Director of Transportation Infrastructure, U.S. Chamber of Commerce; the President and CEO of the American Highway Users Alliance; and the Director, Physical Infrastructure Issues Government Accountability Office (GAO). Committee Ranking Member, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) also delivered an opening statement.

Senator Inhofe said, "First, I want to point out that although Secretary Peters along with two other Commissioners voted against the final report, there was much agreement on most of the policy recommendations. For the most part, all the Commissioners found agreement on the vast and unmet needs of our nation’s transportation network, but where they differ is in how to pay for it. I have long advocated for a decreased federal role, which I believe allows for greater flexibility for states to manage their own transportation funding priorities. It would appear those who wrote the dissenting views concur...

"I think the important lessons to take from the report are that if we don’t take dramatic action, growing congestion and deteriorating pavement conditions will choke the US economy. I am glad that there is consensus among the commissioners that modal specific decisions and the current program structure are outdated. Finally, I have to comment on the proposed financing mechanism. I believe increasing the federal fuel tax by the amount proposed in the final report is neither politically viable nor economically sound..."

GAO testified that the nation has reached a critical juncture with its current surface transportation policies and programs. Demand has outpaced the capacity of the system, resulting in increased congestion. In addition, without significant changes in funding mechanisms, revenue sources, or planned spending, the Highway Trust Fund -- the major source of federal highway and transit funding -- is projected to incur significant deficits in the years ahead. GAO's testimony discusses 1) principles to assess proposals for restructuring the surface transportation program and 2) GAO’s preliminary observations on the Commission’s recommendations.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce testified, "We -- Congress, state and local governments, and the private sector -- cannot treat infrastructure like other problems or programs where you can wait until the very last minute and then write a big check. Infrastructure projects require foresight and years of careful planning... On a typical day, about 43 million tons of goods valued at $29 billion, moved nearly 12 billion ton-miles on the nation’s interconnected transportation network. Bridges serve as critical links in the system... Congestion costs drivers $78 billion a year in wasted time and fuel costs. Americans spend 4.2 billion hours a year stuck in traffic... Shoddy road conditions result in $67 billion in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs per year. More important, poorly maintained roads contribute to a third of all highway fatalities. That’s more than 14,000 deaths every year -- a national disgrace..."

The Chamber said it "agrees with Senator Inhofe’s observation made at the EPW hearing last week, '…Both the current model of stovepiped modal decisions and the current program structure are outdated...' When it comes to funding and financing our national transportation system, the Chamber believes that every option must be considered to address the enormous problems of the aging transportation infrastructure..."

Access the hearing website with links to all testimony, opening statements and a webcast (
click here). Access the complete 258-page Commission report or individual sections (click here). Access the Commission's website for extensive background information (click here). Access a release from the U.S. Chamber (click here). [*Transport]