Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) during today’s hearing titled: “Aligning Federal Surface Transportation Policy to Meet 21st Century Needs.”
Thank you, Chair Norton and Ranking Member Davis, for holding this hearing. Without question, the most imperative work this Subcommittee will undertake in the 116th Congress is crafting a surface transportation authorization bill.
Although the deadline when highway and transit programs expire – September 2020 – may seem a comfortable distance on the Congressional calendar, we don’t have time to spare. We must find a solution immediately to a very real and very looming funding crisis in order to make reauthorization possible.
We are just one week away from the official start of spring – and the start of the construction season in many parts of the country. Thanks to the FAST Act, States and local governments go into this construction season with certainty when it comes to highway and transit investments. That will not be the case for much longer. Planning projects, signing contracts, and hiring workers will all grind to a halt next year if Congress fails to enact a reauthorization bill.
When we get too close to the wire on passing an authorization – or when the amount or availability of Federal funding becomes uncertain with Continuing Resolutions and government shutdowns – it has real effects on stalling highway and transit projects. Earlier this year, we saw evidence of this, when Oklahoma announced that 45 projects were being delayed due to the government shutdown. In the spring of 2015, as Congress was beginning its process to develop the FAST Act, several States announced they would delay the start of projects over uncertainty about whether and when Federal funds would come.
Last week, the Committee on Ways and Means held a hearing on finding a sustainable solution to highway and transit funding. The hearing demonstrated once again that there is near unanimous support among stakeholders for finding real revenues. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO, and the American Trucking Associations were all in firm agreement that the cost of inaction to businesses, workers, and the economy is real. Even more importantly, the unequivocal willingness of the business community to pay higher user fees in order to have better infrastructure is equally real. This is consistent with the message this Committee has heard from stakeholders for years.
It is time for this clear willingness to translate into action by Congress to do the right thing and raise real revenues. At the hearing, many Republican members of the Committee advocated for private investment, pushing State and local governments to do more on their own, and stripping transit out of the Highway Trust Fund. Let me be clear – this is the opposite of raising real revenue. This lowest-common-denominator mentality does nothing to address structurally deficient bridges, crippling congestion, or the need to build more resilient infrastructure. In fact, it does the opposite by cementing underinvestment as a strategy.
I see plenty of opportunity in the upcoming surface transportation bill to improve highway and transit programs. We can save time and money in project delivery through smarter design, increased accountability, and tougher procurement rules. We can learn from and reward State innovation, and we can provide more local control over transportation dollars. We can harness the power of technologies to reduce congestion and increase safety. We can invest in electrification and other strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And with every dollar, we can create and sustain more good-paying American jobs and support U.S. manufacturing.
But all of that will only become a reality if we get serious about finding the money and come to agreement that there is no time to wait. Thank you, Madam Chair, and I look forward to the testimony.