The American people want government to ensure their hard-earned tax dollars are used more effectively and wisely. They want wasteful programs eliminated. And they want real infrastructure instead of endless studies and bureaucracy.
These are the issues we have repeatedly heard at House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearings and listening sessions across the country. These meetings allowed members of Congress to hear firsthand how federal policies and red tape get in the way of effective transportation improvements.
Congress must act now to craft legislation that can help create long-term jobs, reduce the massive federal bureaucracy, streamline project delivery and provide flexibility to states so they can address their infrastructure needs.
SAFETEA-LU — the previous law setting policies and funding formulas for highways, transit and safety programs — expired in September 2009. Since then, we have operated under seven temporary extensions. This is unacceptable.
Many surface transportation programs are outdated, underperforming and underutilized. We clearly need a new direction to address our growing transportation challenges.
The bill we plan will differ from previous reauthorizations in its broad scope. Over the years, the six-year surface transportation bills have been commonly referred to as the highway bill. This year, the Transportation Committee intends to produce comprehensive legislation to not only reauthorize the federal highways, transit and highway safety programs but also make significant reforms in our rail and maritime transportation policies.
The United States currently borrows 40 cents of every dollar spent. But most of our transportation programs rely on revenues generated by users of those systems. This bill must continue this user-funded concept and ensure that these revenues are maximized and targeted to their best possible uses.
Challenged to do more with less, the committee must take available Highway Trust Fund revenues and other existing sources of funding and dramatically enhance their value. We are exploring every responsible means of doing this.
For example, we can improve successful transportation programs, such as the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. TIFIA provides credit assistance to finance surface transportation projects and enables us to leverage our trust fund dollars with state, local and private-sector funding.
We can also improve programs that are not performing well, such as the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program and the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.
This transportation fund, supported by cargo fees, is critical for dredging and harbor channel improvements. But despite growing maritime infrastructure needs, these funds are not being used for their intended purpose of maintaining our ports. This important fund must not remain caught up in the budgetary gimmicks of Washington.
The committee hopes to consolidate more than 100 federal surface transportation programs. Over the past 50 years, dozens of new programs have been created to address issues beyond the original programmatic goals. We are examining every program to determine its viability. By consolidating duplicative programs and eliminating ones not in the national interest, we can reduce the Transportation Department’s bureaucracy and better utilize our existing resources.
Reliance on the federal bureaucracy impedes our efficiency. According to the Federal Highway Administration, highway projects can take up to 15 years to complete, from planning through construction. This is government at its worst. States and local governments deal with an endless review process, while needed safety and maintenance improvements languish and construction costs escalate.
A project review process is necessary to protect the environment, but we can provide protections in a more reasonable manner. The committee intends to streamline this costly, cumbersome and duplicative review process.
When the I-35W bridge in Minnesota collapsed in 2007 because of a design flaw, the replacement was contracted to be completed in just 437 days. A similar project typically spends seven to eight years just in the approval phase because of federal red tape. Most projects follow this model.
Taking the process out of Washington and giving states more responsibility and flexibility is a primary goal. Reducing federal mandates and providing more decision-making and approval authority to states will allow them to prioritize their unique transportation needs and focus their scarce resources without Washington tying their hands.
The federal government must not stand in the way of private-sector investment in our infrastructure. While public-private partnerships will not solve all of our problems, private-sector resources and expertise can play a larger role in building transportation projects for our nation more efficiently and with fewer tax dollars.
By better defining their roles and limiting the impact of the federal bureaucracy, our states, local governments and the private sector can provide better, more cost-effective solutions for addressing our transportation needs.
With bipartisan and bicameral support, we can move America’s transportation in a new direction.