Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Senate Hearing On Importance Of Transportation Investments

Mar 3: The Senate Environment and Pubic Works Committee, Chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) held a hearing on, The Importance of Transportation Investments to the National Economy and Jobs. Witnesses testifying at the hearing included representatives from the: American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials; American Road and Transportation Builders Association; National Construction Alliance II; and the Associated General Contractors of America. Senator Boxer and Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) both delivered opening statements.
    The Committee discussed the agreement reached in the Senate in the evening of March 2, that ended Senator Jim Bunning's (R-KY) one-man hold on key legislation to extend he authority another 30 days of surface transportation authorization under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient, Transportation Equity Act -- A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) which expired March 1, 2010. Another bill to extend SAFETEA-LU through the end of 2010 is now pending action [See WIMS 3/1/10].
    Chairman Boxer said, "We know transportation infrastructure investment is a proven jobs creator. According to the Department of Transportation (DOT) every $1 billion in Federal money for transportation that is matched by state and local funds supports approximately 34,700 jobs. According to a recent report by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), more than 280,000 direct jobs have been created or sustained at projects across the country as a result of the highway and transit funding in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). "
    She said, "In coming weeks we will be considering many important aspects of the surface transportation authorization, including , among other topics, federal, state and local partnerships to accelerate transportation benefits, mobility and congestion in urban and rural America, and transportation's impact on the environment. The next highway, transit and highway safety authorization provides an opportunity to take a fresh look at these programs and make the changes necessary to ensure our transportation system will meet America's needs in the coming years. At the end of the day it's a matter of setting the right priorities and crafting innovative and effective means to address them." Both Senator Boxer and Inhofe commented that while there are major disagreements on many issues considered by the Committee, Republicans and Democrats generally agree on many transportation issues.
    Senator Inhofe said he was "relieved the Senate was able to work out a deal last night on the 30-day extension of the highway program." But, he continued "this is in no way a victory. This simply means that we will go back to the highway program being funded $1 billion a month lower than 2009 levels and living with the uncertainty of short-term extension. In fact, the states won't receive the new funding provided by this extension for close to a month -- just when this extension is expiring. The House needs to move and pass the long-term extension the Senate sent over last week."
    Senator Inhofe indicated, "Despite the relatively small amount of highway investment in the stimulus bill, it is evident that highway investment is a proven job creator-much more so than any of the other of the Administration's so-called "stimulus" initiatives. Although I support increased infrastructure investment in any form, it is important to note that supplemental highway funding in the so called "jobs bill" is in no way a substitute for the short- and long-term economic necessity of a multi-year highway bill re-authorization.
    He said, "The Department of Transportation has estimated that the maintenance backlog on our nation's roads and bridges exceeds $600 billion. I have often said that, despite its large size, SAFETEA didn't even maintain the system we have. The previous estimate was just $500 billion-in other words, increases in the costs of steel, cement and higher wages, combined with chronic underinvestment, have put us into an even deeper hole. . . As the rest of the world continues to finance new ports, highways, and sophisticated rail networks to attract new commerce, we are falling far behind, and our underinvestment means that our domestic industries are operating globally at a competitive disadvantage. If we fail to provide a free-flowing transportation system to accommodate the needs of our economy, our manufacturing industries will be forced to export their operations abroad."
    Access the hearing website and links to all testimony and a webcast of the hearing (click here).