The hearing will provide general oversight on current regulatory and programmatic activities at the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Commerce Committee has general oversight jurisdiction over the entire Department and specific authority over the Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Maritime Administration, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the Research and Innovative Technology Administration, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, amongst other entities within the Department.
Daniel K. InouyeSenatorTransportation fuels our economy and improves the quality of our lives. It permits industry to move goods and people to travel both across our nation and globally. Transportation is an economic catalyst that drives our nation’s prosperity.While the U.S. transportation system is first-rate, it is facing substantial challenges that threaten to gridlock commerce. Many of our highways, bridges, and tunnels, built in the middle of the last century, are nearing the end of their design life and must be rebuilt or replaced. The tragic Minneapolis bridge collapse this past August highlighted a growing problem across the entire nation, and serves as a wake-up call to the crisis facing all of our transportation modes and their essential infrastructure.Simply replacing aged infrastructure will not be enough to meet the needs of our nation in the coming century. We also must expand the capacity of our transportation systems to accommodate growing commerce and an ever-increasing population. The growing daily congestion, whether on our highways or railways, or in our ports or airspace, is problematic for the public and American businesses, and is steadily becoming worse. More highway, aviation, and port infrastructure must be built, more railway tracks must be upgraded and laid, more intermodal connections must be developed, and the entire system must be managed and maintained more efficiently.In addition to addressing the improvement of the mass transportation modes, Congress is on the verge of addressing fuel economy standards for the first time in several decades. The opportunity to address our growing dependence on foreign oil and reduce our greenhouse gas emission is here, and I look forward to partnering with the members of the House of Representatives and with the Department of Transportation (DOT) to have the fuel economy provisions the Senate included in H.R. 6 sent to the President and signed into law.Improving safety, of course, is as important as taking action to improve capacity and efficiency, and the two must proceed hand-in-hand. In some areas, the DOT has made good progress on this mission. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has achieved an unprecedented safety record over the past several years, and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has helped reduce railroad accidents. But the safety of other areas of our transportation system has not seen as much progress. Highway and truck fatalities have either risen or remained stubbornly high in recent years, and efforts by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), in particular, appear not to be achieving the safety improvements that we expect and that the driving public deserves. While the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been executing the rulemakings mandated by SAFETEA-LU, there are questions about the efficacy of the rules, especially in the areas of roof crush and occupant safety. I hope to hear from Secretary Peters that the DOT will redouble its efforts to improve safety and remain vigilant in maintaining the safety improvements we have achieved so far.Finally, scarce fiscal resources compound the challenge of efficiently replacing and expanding our aged infrastructure. The Congressional Budget Office projects the Highway Trust Fund will be depleted by the end of this decade, and the Government Accountability Office has raised questions about the ability of the Airport and Airway Trust Fund to sustain needed funding for the FAA and pay for the modernization of the air traffic control system.The DOT must act now to avoid catastrophic breakdowns across all transportation modes in the system. Congress must find the resources to fund new capacity and safety programs, and provide diligent oversight to ensure goals are met. I look forward to the testimony of Secretary Peters and Inspector General Scovel today and plan to work closely with my colleagues in the Senate to ensure the challenges our transportation system faces are met.
Ted StevensSenatorMs. Secretary, thank you for being here today and I want to congratulate you on what you’ve done in such a short period of time. We do have some substantial problems in our transportation systems. As you have indicated, the decline of our transportation systems is apparent. The aging of America’s system is upon us because of so many things happening at the same time. I look forward to your comments today and your prepared statement.Let me point out that we have some substantial problems in our state, not the least of which, we have fewer roads than Vermont. Vermont has 2 percent of the land that we have in Alaska and yet they have more roads than we do. We have a substantial problem with airports. We still have some airports in the northern part of Alaska that do not have runway lights and yet that is the only means of access of those small villages in the wintertime. We’ve had to improvise in many ways to get the Medivac planes into those places.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Mary E. PetersSecretary of TransportationU.S. Department of Transportation
Witness Panel 2
The Honorable Calvin L. Scovel IIIInspector GeneralU.S. Department of Transportation