U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled, “FAST Act Reauthorization: Transportation and Safety Issues,” at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. The hearing will examine implementation of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which expires at the end of fiscal year 2020, and priorities for the Department of Transportation as Congress prepares for surface transportation reauthorization.
- The Honorable Ronald Batory, Administrator, Federal Railroad Administration
- The Honorable Raymond Martinez, Administrator, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
- The Honorable Joel Szabat, Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs, Office of the Secretary of Transportation
- Ms. Heidi King, Deputy Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
*Witness list subject to change
Wednesday, June 19, 2019
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
This hearing will take place in the Hart Senate Office Building 216. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
Chairman Roger Wicker
The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015, better known as the FAST Act, reauthorized many of the modal administrations responsible for ensuring the safety of our surface transportation system, including FMCSA, NHTSA, and FRA.
Today’s hearing provides our witnesses with the opportunity to discuss the implementation of the FAST Act and to identify issues that this committee should consider as we prepare for a surface transportation reauthorization.
The FAST Act placed a greater focus on our nation’s multimodal freight network, that includes establishing the INFRA grant program. This program and others such as BUILD grants – formerly TIGER grants – are critical to improve our nation’s transportation infrastructure.
I hope the witnesses will provide the committee with an update on efforts to improve our infrastructure and how INFRA and BUILD grants are being utilized.
As the Commerce Committee considers reauthorizing the FAST Act, I plan to work closely with Ranking Member Cantwell and our other distinguished members on both sides of the aisle to:
- Authorize the BUILD discretionary grants;
- reauthorize Amtrak and continue to enhance our freight and passenger rail network;
- facilitate innovative transportation technologies across modes through coordinated research, development, and deployment;
- advance highway safety initiatives;
- focus on our nation’s multimodal freight network through programs like INFRA.
Senator Cantwell and I are also fully committed to working to improve our coastal and inland ports.
Safety is a top priority for this committee and for the Department of Transportation. But, with 37,000 highway deaths in 2017, more must be done.
Sadly, deaths in cars also happen when they are parked. Last month, I reintroduced the HOT CARS Act with Senator Blumenthal and Ranking Member Cantwell to prevent deaths of children left in unattended vehicles. In my state of Mississippi alone, there were at least 18 such fatalities between 1998 and 2018. These tragedies should be addressed immediately through technological improvements and enhanced education efforts – the HOT Cars Act would move us in the right direction. Technology will be a key part of solving the future of transportation challenges.
Let me take a moment to congratulate Secretary Chao for her efforts to prepare for those challenges by supporting emerging technologies, including advancing the safe testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles.
Until such time as autonomous vehicles are pervasive on our roads and used commercially, there is still an urgent need for truck drivers to help move our nation’s goods. I know the FMCSA is working on a pilot program to meet this need by studying the feasibility of allowing 18 to 20-year-old drivers with military experience to operate trucks in interstate commerce.
I think the committee would benefit from an update on that pilot program and a conversation regarding what other steps can be taken to address the shortage of truck drivers.
There is much to discuss today as we assess the safety and reliability of our nation’s transportation system and prepare for reauthorization of the FAST Act and the future of surface transportation. I look forward to the testimony of our panel of witnesses.
And I now recognize my friend, the Ranking Member, Senator Cantwell for her opening remarks.
Ranking Member Maria Cantwell
Thank you Chairman Wicker, and thank you for holding this important hearing today, and to the witnesses for being here. Every day, millions of ships, trains, planes, and vehicles move billions of dollars worth of goods all over our increasingly connected global marketplace. Our ports are at the very heart of this global marketplace, which American farmers and manufacturers rely on to get their products to market, and speed is critical in the 21st century economy. When farmers and manufacturers can’t move their goods efficiently, they don’t just lose a sale, they lose a market share. They lose shelf space and they lose opportunity to compete.
Regardless of where you grow or make your product, whether it’s in the heartland or on a coast, a world-class port system is good for business. I know my colleague, the chairman of the committee, agrees on this important issue. But right now we are falling behind. If we don’t modernize our ports, companies and countries all over the world will turn elsewhere. Ports all over America are facing competition from nations that are making robust, long-term investments in infrastructure. So, I want to thank Chairman Wicker for recognizing the important role this plays in our economy and I look forward to working with him on a comprehensive package.
In the FAST Act, this committee fought for increased funding for multimodal freight infrastructure. Not only does this fuel job growth and American economic competitiveness, it also reduces congestion and increases safety. In the state of Washington, just one congested railroad crossing in Seattle cost $9.5 million a year in economic activity. By eliminating this chokepoint, we can speed up freight movements for goods coming from the heartland to our ports and to those global markets. Freight infrastructure initiatives such as CRISI and INFRA are designed to do just that. So in the FAST Act re-authorization, I hope that we’ll look to increase levels of funding to meet the strong demand for these programs.
As we invest in transportation improvements, we also must keep safety at top of mind. According to preliminary NHTSA data, there were a staggering 36,750 traffic fatalities in 2018. That is an average of 100 people dying each day on our national roadways. While the overall crash fatality number dropped slightly from 2017, NHTSA reported sharp increases in truck and pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. So I support developing new vehicle safety technologies, like automated braking and other innovations, to be widely deployed through our fleets, and to continue to make sure that we are meeting the challenge of pedestrian and cyclist safety.
We also need to innovate in the area of transportation. That is imperative in the area of global warming. According to the EPA, our transportation sector is responsible for 29% of the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. This is an area where smart policy, combined with American ingenuity, can make a difference. So this committee has been involved with this issue before. The historic 2009 agreement on CAFE standards reflected a consensus among auto industry, state regulators, bipartisan people here in this committee, and in the Congress. So, I don’t agree with the administration’s proposal to roll back fuel efficiency standards. I think that takes us in the wrong direction, and I hope our committee will play a constructive role in moving us in the right direction.
So, I look forward to hearing from the witnesses today and working with all of you on meeting our transportation safety, efficiency, and infrastructure improvements for the future. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Ronald BatoryAdministratorFederal Railroad Administration
The Honorable Raymond MartinezAdministratorFederal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
The Honorable Joel SzabatAssistant Secretary for Aviation and International AffairsOffice of the Secretary of Transportation
Ms. Heidi KingDeputy AdministratorNational Highway Traffic Safety Administration