Rockefeller: Congress Must Find Long-Term Solution for Funding Surface Transportation Programs

May 7, 2014

JDR Head ShotWASHINGTON, D.C. -- Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV today gave an opening statement at the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing titled, "Surface Transportation Reauthorization: Progress, Challenges, and Next Steps." Below are his prepared remarks:

Until recently, this nation was the global leader when it came to building the greatest bridges, interstates, tunnels, canals, ports and railways. From coast to coast, we are reminded of those golden days of innovation, and investment that ultimately set our nation apart from the rest of the world.

But those days of big ideas, bold investments, and preparing for the future seem to be behind us. This nation, which once dared to dream and lead, has retreated from the legacy of our predecessors. We’ve gotten into a rut. We’re unable to pass long-term funding transportation bills rooted in bold ideas. Instead, we’re now focused on the nickels and dimes of our deficit – and mainly because of the high political costs associated with proposing any kind of revenue increase. 

Sadly, this short-sightedness has left us with a broken and increasingly second-rate transportation system. This has left commuters sitting in traffic for hours daily, wasting precious time. It’s left us with shaky bridges that have compromised the safety of our traveling public. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time I’ve described the dismal state of our nation’s infrastructure. Nor is it the first time I’ve expressed my dismay that we’ve grown accustomed to an ad-hoc, short-term approach to funding our nation’s infrastructure – moving from one inadequate funding bill to the next without much care for the long term implications of this negligent way of governing. 

Collectively, Congress has shown neither the will nor the courage to put aside differences and work to find a long-term solution. This hurts everyone. It impairs commerce. It has soured our ability to do big things, to be the country that is innovating and investing and building projects that will define our future. 

Nations around the world have come to realize, just as we once did, that in order to grow their economies and increase competiveness, they have to invest – whether it’s expanding the Panama Canal, building high-speed rail lines, or adding capacity at ports.   
We all know the statistics of the state of our infrastructure. They’re about as bad as it gets. We’re unwilling to pay for what we so desperately need. Going forward, our economy, our global competitiveness, and the safety of the traveling public will continue to suffer unless we change course immediately.

I am a firm believer that the federal government has a critical role to play in upgrading our nation’s infrastructure. We need to lead. We need to create a coherent and unified mission for our federal surface transportation programs – and in some places, we need to grow those programs. This is not a partisan issue; this is a fundamental economic issue.

The Department of Transportation recently estimated that the Highway Trust Fund will run out of money in August, and need an additional infusion of general fund monies just to get us through the busy construction season. This is just another reminder of what we already know and what we have been discussing for years. We need more money for our infrastructure system. It’s the only way we’re going to begin to solve our problems.

My colleague and friend, Senator Boxer, has already signaled that she’s serious about passing a long-term transportation bill. I intend to support her every step of the way in this goal. It is my hope that all of our colleagues will put aside the politics and the shortsightedness, and join us in this effort. 

Beyond dealing with repairs of our existing infrastructure, we are experiencing a fundamental shift in transportation trends across the country. Vehicles are becoming more fuel efficient, young adults continue to drive less, and public transportation ridership is at an all-time high. What this means is that we also need to rethink our approach to transportation investment.   

Congress, the Administration, the transportation community, and the American people need to put the politics and timidity aside, and move forward with a renewed purpose in rebuilding our country. None of these proposals alone will be the silver bullet for all our infrastructure needs, but we can conclude that the status quo is insufficient.

The nation’s transportation system should be something that unites us, leads to growth in our economy and creates jobs. I am glad to have Secretary Foxx here today to discuss the Administration’s proposal that makes some bold changes to how we look at and fund transportation. 

I was pleased the Administration proposed significant new funding to keep the country moving forward, and to also allocate resources to where our transportation system sorely needs them – such as moving freight and improving rail service. I look forward to our discussion today.