WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation announces the following full committee hearing to review the Department of Transportation FY2012 budget.
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Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IVU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Infrastructure development has played an integral part to our nation’s expansion, economic development and growth. I think it is important to note that the federal government has always been the driving force in the development of our transportation networks – from the first outlays of money to build canals in the early days of the Republic, to creating the conditions for the development of railroads in the 19th century, to the development of the interstate highway and aviation system in the 20th century.
As we begin the 21st century, we stand at a crossroads – our highways and bridges are crumbling around us, congestion plagues our highways, railroads, and airports, and our maritime infrastructure is inadequate. This is not just an inconvenience. It costs us all time and money. It costs our economy jobs. It puts us at a competitive disadvantage globally. It harms our health and environment.
Let’s be clear, if we fail to make substantial improvements in our nation’s infrastructure – highways, aviation, maritime, and rail – we will not create the economic growth necessary for job creation.
I am pleased that the Administration’s fiscal year 2012 budget recognizes the importance of transportation to our future economic well-being. What we’ve seen of the Administration’s surface transportation proposal in the budget is a monumental shift in how we’ve funded our surface transportation system for the past several decades.
The President proposes to spend a record $556 billion on surface transportation programs – almost doubling what we spend in the last six year authorization. I support the Administration’s vision. But, if we’re to entrust the Department of Transportation (DOT) with the investment of such significant funding, we must make sure measures are in place to keep DOT accountable for spending those dollars most efficiently and effectively.
My Federal Surface Transportation Policy and Planning Act of 2011 would require DOT to be strategic in its decision making in how it awards taxpayer dollars to transportation projects.
DOT and the states must be accountable in the way they are spending limited federal resources and must make sure they are used to meet the nation’s most pressing needs—safety, congestion relief, and emissions reductions.
The Administration proposes a very bold vision for building a nationwide passenger rail network. Rail—both passenger and freight—must play a larger role in our transportation network if we want to optimize our transportation system to bolster our economy. Passenger rail systems worldwide rely on some level of federal investment and I believe that we should be spending more federal dollars to make Amtrak a better system and to build a more efficient rail network.
Our freight railroads are becoming more and more profitable, and our federal policy and any federal investment in their systems should be geared toward making the systems more affordable for all users, especially captive shippers.
I also want to highlight the Administration’s commitment to funding the Next Generation Air Traffic Control System. The Senate recently passed the FAA bill and I look forward to working with the Secretary on making sure that we maintain our commitment to building a world class air traffic control system.
I also want to commend the Administration for its emphasis on improving the safety of our nation’s transportation system and building on the previous Administration’s commitment to this issue.
As the Secretary knows, more than 33,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2009. While this number has been steadily declining, it is still unacceptably high. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for individuals aged 3-34 – a truly stunning statistic. We can and must do more to reduce the loss of life on our nation’s roads.
These numbers demonstrate the deep importance of DOT’s safety mission and the need for our nation’s auto safety agency, NHTSA, to have the resources and authorities that it needs.
I am pleased that the budget calls for a more than 20 percent increase in the vehicle safety budget for NHTSA. Hearings last year revealed weaknesses in the agency’s investigative capabilities and the levels of expertise among staff to identify defects and pursue recalls. This increase will better enable the agency to address the next safety crisis.
I believe that important safety initiatives, such as combating drunk driving, reducing distracted driving, and improving hours of service for truck drivers must be given equal – if not more attention – than construction projects. We are losing too many people in the prime of their lives unnecessarily.
The challenges of rebuilding America are great. If we fail to invest now, it may be too late. Deferring this investment will only make the problems worse and more expensive to address. Most importantly, deferring this investment will cost us lives.
Again, I want to thank the Secretary for being here today.
Senator Kay Bailey HutchisonU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
STATEMENT OF SENATOR KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON
COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE, SCIENCE, AND TRANSPORTATION
HEARING ON THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION’S PROPOSED
FISCAL YEAR 2012 BUDGET
MARCH 8, 2011
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding today’s hearing. And welcome, Secretary LaHood. We appreciate the opportunity to discuss with you the President’s proposed transportation budget for fiscal year 2012 and, in particular, the policy implications the budget has for the programs under the Commerce Committee’s jurisdiction.
I am especially interested in the Administration’s six-year $556 billion surface transportation reauthorization proposal. This proposal would expand the current Highway Trust Fund into a new Transportation Trust Fund with separate accounts for highway, rail, transit, and for a national infrastructure bank. I have a number of questions about this proposal, such as why the Administration has not proposed any sort of funding mechanism. This is the most important aspect of any reauthorization proposal, and I hope that the Administration will contribute to the debate we need to have on how to fund our nation’s transportation programs. Otherwise, this proposal looks like more of a wish list than a way forward.
I also have concerns about the Administration’s proposal for $50 billion in “Up-Front” spending on transportation projects in fiscal year 2012. While I understand and support the need to upgrade our nation’s transportation infrastructure, finding a sustainable source of funding for our transportation programs should be our top priority, not increasing government spending at a time of record-setting federal deficits.
I will be particularly interested in how the Administration intends to back up its commitment to develop a national high-speed rail program. We have already appropriated $13 billion for high-speed and intercity rail projects, and this budget proposes an additional $53 billion over 6 years. I would like to see continued investment in high-speed and passenger rail, but we must have a funding plan in place before we can commit to moving forward.
I would also note that, to date, Texas has received only $16 million of the over $7 billion in passenger rail funding that has been obligated. Texas is home to 3 of the 10 largest cities in the United States and 5 of the top 20. This raises questions about the criteria the Department uses in making high-speed rail investment. A State with explosive growth, congestion and major transportation needs should be a strong candidate for high-speed rail investment. I will be looking to work with the Administration to address this issue.
With respect to aviation, I think we all appreciate the Administration’s proposal to increase NextGen, air traffic control modernization funds, albeit from the general fund. The investments needed for NextGen are exactly the type of infrastructure projects our country needs for long-term sustainability and growth. The benefits of increased air traffic efficiency and expanded capacity, along with critical safety enhancements and a reduction of the industry’s environmental footprint, will have tremendous benefits for our aviation system and economy.
However, while the budget proposes specific NextGen investment, it obscures a more troubling trend in the FAA budget as a whole, which is the continued increase in the Operations account and a reliance on the general fund to supplement infrastructure investment cuts. It is not clear to me how we can implement NextGen if we cut airport improvement funding, research funding, and capital programs in the Facilities and Equipment account, but the salary-heavy Operations account continues to grow and grow. In fact, the budget proposal for FAA’s Operations account would provide a $400 million increase over the FY2010 level, at the expense of all the other FAA capital accounts, which all have reduced levels. Something needs to be done to rein in the spending on that account; we need infrastructure, not a top-heavy FAA overburdened with salaries and administrative expenses.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I look forward to Secretary LaHood’s testimony.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Raymond LaHoodSecretaryU.S. Department of Transportation