New Measure Will Meet Transportation Needs

Posted December 5, 2003 at 11:49am

The nation’s economy is gaining strength these days, but a key component of our economy’s foundation is getting weaker. America’s surface transportation system is outdated and getting worse each day. Our interstate highway system — a historic transportation project launched in the 1950s — is now almost 50 years old and is showing its age.

Thirty-two percent of our major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and 29 percent of our bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Thirty-six percent of our urban rail vehicles and maintenance facilities are in substandard or poor condition, and 29 percent of our bus fleet and maintenance facilities are in substandard or poor condition.

Congestion is affecting our quality of life and costing our nation $67 billion a year. Commuters waste 3.6 billion hours a year and 5.7 billion gallons of gas stuck in traffic jams. Congestion costs the average commuter more than $1,160 per year.

Our national congestion problem has worsened because road capacity has not kept pace with road use. Since 1970:

l Licensed drivers have increased by 71 percent.

l Registered vehicles have increased by 99 percent.

l The number of miles Americans drive each year has increased by 148 percent.

However, during the same time period, new road miles have increased by only 6 percent.

Most importantly, we are facing a much more costly transportation safety crisis. More than 42,000 people die each year on our roads and highways. Nearly one-third of all these fatal crashes are caused by substandard road conditions and roadside hazards. Motor vehicle crashes cost the nation $231 billion each year.

This is totally unacceptable for the most advanced nation in the world.

Last month, the bipartisan leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee introduced a truly historic highway and transit authorization bill that will address these national problems — The Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, or TEA-LU.

The $375 billion we provide for the next six years is based on the amount of funding the Transportation Department indicates is needed to maintain our existing roads and begin addressing our national congestion and safety problems.

Our bipartisan legislation includes several major provisions that benefit every state in the nation. Over the next six years, we provide $298 billion for highway, road and bridge improvements and $69 billion for transit programs. The previous six-year funding bill — TEA-21 — provided $174 billion for highway projects and $41 billion for transit projects.

In 2009, our legislation guarantees every state a 95 percent on its percent contribution to the highway trust fund. We understand that more equity is needed for all 50 states to fund their road projects. [IMGCAP(1)]

To improve transportation safety, our legislation creates a core program for highway safety infrastructure improvements with funding levels more than double the levels of TEA-21. This is extremely important in our national campaign to significantly decrease the number of traffic fatalities.

Another major safety provision in TEA-LU is the creation of a new High Risk Rural Road Safety Improvement Program targeted at improving rural two-lane roads. More than 60 percent of all highway-related fatalities occur on these rural roads.

We provide a 66 percent increase in funding for highway safety programs including programs focusing on impaired driving, occupant protection, motorcycle safety, police traffic services and roadway safety.

TEA-LU also authorizes $7.5 billion to address the problem of railroad-highway crossings and the elimination of road hazards. Record levels of safety program funding in this legislation are crucial to reducing the unacceptable number of highway fatalities.

Our legislation also addresses issues associated with truck travel and freight mobility. From 1990 to 2000, U.S. truck travel increased by 38 percent. In the next 20 years, truck travel is expected to increase by 90 percent due to an expanding economy and the increased reliance on just-in-time delivery.

TEA-LU funds several programs to improve freight mobility and new programs like the construction of dedicated truck lanes to improve the safe and efficient movement of freight by separating truck traffic from cars in regular lanes.

Public transportation is a major program under TEA-LU. Few people are aware that the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund — the account that provides 80 percent of the funding for public transportation programs — is facing a zero balance by 2007 unless changes are made as to whether funding is derived from the general fund or the mass transit account of the highway trust fund. We make this correction in our legislation.

We increase the funding formula for public transportation in rural areas — towns of less than 50,000 in population — because in 40 percent of U.S. counties there is no public transportation system available. This is an important step in insuring better medical access and job opportunities for all Americans.

Our legislation will have a tremendous positive benefit by giving a major boost to our nation’s economy. Nationally, the highway and transit funding levels we propose will create more than 1.7 million new jobs throughout the United States over the next six years. This will be one of the largest job-creation bills Members will ever be able to vote on during their service in Congress.

It’s also important to note that transportation infrastructure generates up to a 6-to-1 net return on investment. You won’t find many better investments that provide such a beneficial return, provide so many jobs, and have the potential to save numerous lives.

It’s imperative that our $375 billion investment begin immediately. TEA-LU is drafted as a six-year authorization and Congress may not address these issues again until 2009. Congress must take action to address congestion, roadway safety and the deterioration of the nation’s infrastructure.

Can you imagine what our traffic congestion and roads will be like in 2009 if we fail to make the necessary investment in this year’s reauthorization?

Because the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee does not have jurisdiction over revenue generating provisions, our bill does not address how to completely fund the new programs. We will be working with the House leadership and other committees to resolve this during the next three months.

There’s a common saying in the transportation industry: Good roads cost money. Poor roads cost more.

We believe it’s vital that we immediately begin to move America’s outdated surface transportation system into the 21st century.

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) is chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.