The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works is hearing testimony today on transportation priorities and funding from state and local officials.
The current transportation law known as MAP-21 or the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act expires at the end of September. Chair Barbara Boxer of California convened the hearing to hear perspectives on investment priorities for the next surface transportation authorization bill.
Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders noted that the rest of the world is spending significantly more to rebuild infrastructure than this country. “Bridges are crumbling. Roads are in need of repair. So the bottom line to me is that we lose efficiency. We lose productivity. We have a crisis. We have waited too long to address it. But we have got to invest in that infrastructure.”
Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey noted that the current transportation bill included $1.2 billion in federal highway funds for Massachusetts to modernize highways and bridges, and another $700 million in transit funding. Markey called that a good start, but not enough to deal with the magnitude of the problem. “Making investments in our infrastructure is essential to our economy. It puts construction workers on the clock in good paying jobs. It creates the infrastructure necessary to efficiently move goods and people around our ever-changing and expanding economy. I know that when we rebuild our infrastructure, we rebuild our economy.”
Meanwhile, New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker noted that 65,000 bridges across the U.S. are classified structurally deficient, and in New Jersey, 66 percent of major roads are in poor condition. “This enormous challenge demands that we as a nation invest more in our transportation infrastructure. Not only will a major investment improve safety and help businesses, but it will also create jobs and strengthen our entire economy. As we improve our infrastructure, businesses can move goods quicker and cheaper and reach more customers overseas. This is a critical economic competitiveness issue.”
New York Senator Democrat Kristen Gillibrand reported that the state has 115,000 public road miles and more than 17,000 bridges. 12.5 percent of the bridges are structurally deficient and 27.1 percent are functionally obsolete. She says strong stainable funding for the Highway Trust Fund is crucial. “In New York local governments own 45 percent of our state’s federal highway miles and 51 percent of our bridges. These communities are stretched incredibly thin. This means that federal assistance is all the more critical.”
Vermont Agency of Transportation Deputy Secretary Sue Minter served as the state’s Irene Recovery officer in the aftermath of that tropical storm. She told committee members that the transportation network is the backbone of the economy and it is critical to fund a safe and reliable system. “The highway network is an integrated system that literally ties our nation together. And all states continue to need the federal government to play a leadership role in funding our system.”
Minter added that is why all state DOT’s and private transportation companies are concerned about the pending insolvency of the Transportation Trust Fund. “Just the prospect of the fund running low on cash by this July has already motivated many states to delay new capital projects. If the fund is not replenished soon, project delays will become cancellations. And a reduction in our transportation projects will have an immediate and negative economic impact.”
Committee Chair California Democrat Barbara Boxer outlined a goal to mark the bill up by the end of April, including six years of funding and addressing the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund.