Testimony – Highway and Transit Needs

Good morning. Chairman Petri, Ranking Member Lipinski, and members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today as Chairman of the National Governors Association to discuss what I believe is one of the most critical decisions facing the 108th Congress: the reauthorization of the Surface Transportation Act.

In my view, our country currently faces a transportation crisis, a crisis precipitated by decades of under investment in transportation infrastructure. In many ways this crisis is a silent one; rarely recognized by our constituents until they find themselves in an unbearable commute to work; or unable to make the necessary connections between home, work, and the myriad of other activities that their busy lives demand; or even worse, involved in one of the 42,000 fatal crashes that occur every year on our nation’s highways.

Our nation’s highways and transit systems are the very lifelines of our national economy and way of life. And they are the legacy of those who have come before us. After World War II, President Eisenhower realized that our expanding economy and world leadership position demanded that we make a major commitment to transportation infrastructure. The result of his vision was our greatest public works accomplishment of the 20th Century – our nation’s interstate highway system. We need that same kind of vision and leadership today. We now have the opportunity to build on this legacy by ensuring that our country’s future transportation system meets the demands and needs of an even stronger economy and a more dominant position of world leadership.

Transportation is one of my passions partly because I’m an engineer, but also because I’m a life-long resident of Appalachian Kentucky, a region of our nation that seemed to be destined to a life of poverty because it had been by-passed by the interstate highway system, by-passed until the federal government provided us with a lifeline called the Appalachian Regional Developmental Highway Program. Since becoming Governor of Kentucky in 1995, I’ve been dedicated to improving the efficiency and safety of Kentucky’s highway system. I’ve made it my priority to be personally involved to ensure that our transportation funds are spent efficiently and wisely. I know first hand the devastating effects not having a good transportation system has on a community.

Growing up in Appalachian Kentucky, I witnessed friends and families being deprived of the education, economic status, and quality of life enjoyed by the rest of the nation, in large part, just because they didn’t have the necessary transportation infrastructure. In fact it will take us in Appalachia twenty, thirty, or even forty years to overcome the 75-year decline this region experienced due, in part, to the lack of an effective transportation system. I’ve made transportation a priority because I understand how critical it is to Kentucky’s future. I think almost every other Governor feels the same way about their respective states.

Transportation infrastructure is the engine that powers our economy. Investments in surface transportation and highway projects provide greater returns than any other area of government spending. In fact, for every $1 billion of federal highway investment, 42,000 jobs are generated. The transportation industry accounts for 11 percent of the nation’s economic activity and for one out of every five dollars of total household spending.

During the 1997 reauthorization process, Governor Ed Schafer and I were the lead Governors as the NGA teamed up with several other interested groups to form the Transportation Revenues Used Solely for Transportation (TRUST) Coalition. The 1997 reauthorization resulted in the most comprehensive highway spending bill ever enacted by Congress, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). TEA-21 created a “guarantee” that tax revenues collected in the Highway Trust Fund would be used solely for transportation improvements. This has resulted in an increased investment in surface transportation of nearly 40 percent. This increase has not only provided a stimulus to our nation’s economy, it has also provided much of the critical infrastructure needed for economic growth to occur. But, unfortunately, it has not been enough to keep up with the demand.

As we go through the TEA-21 reauthorization process, we must keep in mind that even at our current level of investment our transportation infrastructure is not adequate to meet the economic, safety, and convenience needs of our society. Our nation certainly can’t afford for us to reduce our current commitments to transportation infrastructure.

As Governors, we daily face the challenges of a 50-year-old highway system that’s tired, overused, and having an extremely difficult time serving citizens who have become dependent on it. In fact, highways have become a necessity to survive both economically and socially. Americans have become so dependent on highways that on the rare occasion when natural or man-made disasters cause a highway to close, the communities that depend on it virtually shut down. When the original architects of the interstate program designed our current highway system, they never envisioned what we have today. They couldn’t see that our highways would become rolling warehouses with just-in-time delivery, moving 11 billion tons of freight annually. They couldn’t begin to dream that our society would become so dependent on the automobile that owning a car would become as big of a necessity as owning a home, and they could not have envisioned a country of two-car, three- and even four-car families.

Our current system was designed for only 15 percent truck traffic and a few thousand cars a day. Today our highways carry anywhere from 40 to 80 percent truck traffic. In fact, between 1990 and 2000, travel on America’s highways increased 28 percent. During this same time period, America’s population grew by 13 percent while lane mileage increased less than 2 percent. Driving in this country has increased at a rate 14 times greater than road capacity. And even more astounding is the fact that it’s estimated that both truck and passenger traffic will double within the next 25 years. Even at our current funding levels, our transportation system is not keeping pace with the demand.

Nowhere is this crisis more evident than in Kentucky. Our state’s goal is to provide a transportation system that provides both economic growth and enhances the quality of life in Kentucky. In order to accomplish this goal we must:

  • use all the intelligent transportation technologies that are available;
  • add additional highway capacity;
  • address our aging bridge system by replacing bridges that are over 50 years old;
  • increase travel efficiencies by reducing travel costs for consumers and businesses; and
  • invest in transportation in ways that put more money back into the pockets of businesses who, in turn, will reinvest in America.

Kentucky is facing some serious challenges in meeting our country’s interstate travel needs. Because of our central location, our state serves as a major connection point for the nation. Five major interstates flow through our state – I-24, I-64, I-65, I-71, and I-75. These interstates were not designed to handle the amount of traffic we are experiencing today. While we are in the process of reconstructing these major transportation arteries, our nation has needs for even more interstate capacity through Kentucky to Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

Our two Ohio River bridge interstate projects will help to fix a critical bottleneck interchange in Louisville, but we are in desperate need for another interstate bridge crossing to Cincinnati for I-75. We also need to provide a much-needed East-West interstate linkage through Kentucky for Appalachia and the Mississippi River Delta by constructing I-66, which will provide critical economic opportunities to areas plagued by poor transportation and poverty. Additionally, it is imperative that we build I-69, which will serve as a critical juncture between our Southwest Region and Mexico and our Northeastern Region and Eastern Canada, a link necessary to accommodate the increased traffic being generated by NAFTA. Responsible federal investment in these critical interstate projects will allow us to continue to open up every sector of the Commonwealth to the economic opportunity we need to succeed in the global economy.

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently released their 2002 Conditions and Performance Report for Highways and Transit. This report identified that an annual investment of $75.9 billion for highways and bridges and $14.8 billion for transit is needed to maintain the physical condition and performance of those systems. In 2000, the combined federal, state, and local investment in highway and bridge capital was less than $65 billion – $11 billion less than what the report stated was needed just to maintain current conditions, much less improve them. Additionally, transit spending needs to increase 64 percent above current levels if we are to provide the same level of service to those who depend on transit for their daily mobility.

By most measures, Governors agree that TEA-21 was a success, but we have so much further to go. Governors know first hand that our aging interstate system is letting the people of this country down. We can ill afford to inadequately invest in our transportation infrastructure and cause our hard-earned progress to fall further behind. With a strong federal investment and responsible growth in revenues in this reauthorization cycle, we can continue to plan ahead with projects that will pave the way for economic opportunity. Simply stated, more money must be invested in transportation. To do otherwise will hinder our economic recovery.

The nation’s Governors look forward to working closely with you, our coalition colleagues, and the Administration to secure another reauthorization of the nation’s surface transportation legislation in a fashion which will ensure that we not lose any of the ground that was won nearly six years ago.

NGA has taken the first step in this process. The Governors have approved a new policy that outlines our position in the reauthorization process. We strongly believe that TEA-21 created an important framework and precedent that must be continued and built on in the next federal reauthorization bill. TEA-21 significantly increased investment in our nation’s transportation system and made considerable progress towards our goal of having a transportation system adequate to meet our transportation needs. The Governors believe this trend must be continued and strongly oppose any efforts to reduce program levels.

The Governors also concur that the current program structure, which features state and local planning and decision-making, flexibility, guaranteed funding levels for highways and transit, and an intermodal approach is working well and should be retained. We firmly believe that the federal transportation program is most effective when states retain maximum flexibility in order to meet the unique needs of their transportation systems. Additional funding categories, mandates and set-asides, while often noble in their goals, reduce states’ abilities to respond to their particular needs and priorities.

Governors will continue to support the guarantee that all highway user fees deposited into the Highway Trust Fund are invested in the federal highway and transit programs. This policy has provided states with improved funding stability and has allowed us to do a much better job of planning and managing our long-term capital investments.

The Governors also support a revised RABA mechanism that will provide accurate, predictable funding levels; maximum, timely distribution of trust fund balances to the states; and avoid reductions in funding levels set in the authorizing legislation. One feature of a revised RABA should be a program to reduce the Highway Account balance in a systematic way and ensure that it is not allowed to build up again.

As I mentioned earlier, we’re experiencing a transportation crisis because the investment levels in surface transportation haven’t kept pace with the growing transportation needs of our country. It’s time for us to face this silent crisis head-on by supporting a permanent extension of the Highway Trust Fund. Governors support growth in Highway Trust Fund revenues and an increased federal funding commitment to transportation that will enable states to maintain a safe, secure, and reliable highway and transit system.

As Governors, we also recognize that public transit plays a significant role in state and national efforts to mitigate traffic congestion, conserve fuel, enhance the efficiency of highway transportation, address air quality issues, and support security and emergency preparedness activities at regional and local levels. As such, among other things, Governors support maintaining the continued growth of guaranteed and predictable federal funding for transit investments.

Governors are pleased that the TEA-21 reauthorization debate has officially begun. There are a number of reauthorization proposals floating around, and this number will continue to grow in the coming months as the debate heats up. While the outcome of this critical debate is far from certain, what is certain is the commitment of many members of Congress to our nation’s transportation system and the integral role it plays in stimulating the economy. We are very grateful to you and applaud your efforts to reauthorize TEA-21 this year.

While Governors may be the elected leaders of the states, we must rely heavily on our partners in Congress during the reauthorization process. Your actions are vital to our country’s economic prosperity and we look forward to working with you throughout the year to ensure that decisions being made allow us to provide the citizens of this nation with the transportation system they deserve: a system that will usher in a new era of economic prosperity; a system that will provide Americans more time with their friends and families due to decreased traffic congestion; and a system that will allow them to travel in a much safer manner.

On behalf of the nation’s Governors, I look forward to working with the Congress and express our appreciation for your hard work and your eventual success in this process. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.