September 29, 2022

Chair DeFazio Statement from Hearing on the Transformative Impact of Legislation Passed by the 117th Congress

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) during today’s hearing titled, “Investing in our Nation’s Transportation Infrastructure and Workers: Why it Matters.”

Video of DeFazio’s opening statement is here.

More information on the hearing can be found here.

Chair DeFazio:

Today’s hearing gives us the chance to hear from stakeholders about the impacts of transportation legislation passed by the 117th Congress. After 36 years in Congress, I have fought enough uphill battles to know that the forces of apathy and inertia are strong. But I am proud of the work of this committee, and this Congress as a whole, these last two years—to defeat that sense of inertia and deliver for the American people.

When faced with the unprecedented challenges to the transportation industry from the COVID-19 pandemic—we delivered. When faced with crumbling transportation infrastructure that had been neglected for years—we delivered. When faced with a climate crisis and a desperate need for government leadership in order to decarbonize—we delivered.  

This Congress, we passed three bills that will grow the economy, strengthen our global competitiveness, create good-paying union jobs that can’t be sent overseas, and make our communities more resilient—the American Rescue Plan Act, the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act.

Almost four years ago in February 2019, the committee held a hearing to kick off the 116th Congress and we called it “The Cost of Doing Nothing: Why Investing in Our Nation’s Infrastructure Cannot Wait.” Over the course of nearly seven hours, we heard from stakeholders about the urgent need to invest in transportation infrastructure projects across the country and across transportation modes.

At that time, transportation demand was booming, and our existing infrastructure was not able to keep up with user demand. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated an investment gap of $2 trillion over 10 years to fix existing infrastructure, meet future needs, and restore global competitiveness.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Of course, the pandemic had massive impacts on transportation—it disrupted business and leisure travel, and upended many Americans’ daily work routines and commutes. But for essential and frontline workers, the need for safe and reliable transit options was greater than ever. In the face of this challenge, we passed COVID relief: first the CARES Act, and then the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, and then the American Rescue Plan Act. 

Among other benefits to the country, these bills managed to keep the nation’s trains, buses, and subways running. We rescued the aviation industry and Amtrak, but we kept workers at the center of the recovery effort—refusing to allow entities taking these funds to impose involuntary furloughs and stock buy-backs—focusing benefits towards American workers, not corporate shareholders. 

And this nation’s transportation workers quickly became the heroes of the pandemic, as flight attendants bravely faced hostility from passengers in the midst of a stressful flying environment, transit workers kept buses and subways running so that other essential workers could get to their jobs, and freight workers and truck drivers delivered food and other essentials to communities at a time of great turmoil. These essential workers delivered for our nation.

We appreciate and thank them, and I look forward to hearing from Sara Nelson of the Association of Flight Attendants and Greg Regan of the Transportation Trades Department about how their members overcame obstacles to keep our transportation systems running.

The 117th Congress also passed a surface transportation authorization bill that included truly transformative investments: the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, enacted in November 2021.  The long-overdue investments included in this legislation will grow the economy, strengthen our global competitiveness, create good-paying union jobs that can’t be sent overseas, and make our communities more resilient, livable, and equitable. In particular, this bipartisan infrastructure law makes badly-needed improvements to our rail systems, bridges and highways, transit, water, and broadband infrastructure, as well as our ports and airports—investments I have championed for years, both in the minority and majority, and under Republican and Democratic administrations.

To give just one example, the bill will tackle the over $100 billion transit state of good repair backlog through a 30% increase in transit formula grants in year one alone, a new railcar replacement program, and an unprecedented investment in new, cleaner buses and bus facilities.

Right now, 42,966 of the nation’s bridges are in poor condition. That’s why the IIJA provided more than $40 billion in dedicated funding for bridge repair, rehabilitation, and replacement. The law tackles every aspect of the problem by authorizing a flexible formula bridge program, providing dedicated funding for small, rural bridge repairs, and establishing a new grant program to reconstruct the largest and most complex bridges that will stand for a century to come. This money is already being put to work across the country. According to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), more than 300 projects are already underway using funds from the new FHWA Bridge Formula Program alone.

All of these infrastructure investments support good-paying jobs, too—today’s witness Dr. Adam Hersh estimates that IIJA’s additional infrastructure spending will support 772,400 jobs annually. And there’s a multiplier effect to the economic benefits for the communities where projects take place—ARTBA has estimated that IIJA funds would have a three-fold multiplier effect.

But the IIJA doesn’t just build for the sake of building. It puts us on a path towards addressing our greatest challenges—strengthening America’s position on the world stage; building a transportation system that is equitable and provides access for all; and addressing the existential threat of climate change.

Humans are causing climate change in a number of ways—most notably through burning coal, gasoline and other fossil fuels. 

The transportation sector is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Over the last three decades, those emissions have risen 24%, more than any other sector. Passenger and freight vehicles account for 82% of transportation sector emissions—yet Congress did little to address it. A lot of the climate change policy action has been in the courts and in the private sector, as businesses look to manage their climate risks and comply with laws in the European Union, Canada, and other countries that have actually passed legislation to do something. Until now. 

Now, with the Inflation Reduction Act, we are finally seeing Congress take action on climate change. For transportation, this means supporting greener materials in highway construction and the adoption of sustainable aviation fuels. The law also includes substantial tax incentives for electric vehicles. And the IIJA’s support for passenger rail, transit, and pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure will make a difference in providing climate-friendly transportation options that will reduce congestion for everyone. As I've said many times, climate change is an existential threat to our nation and the world, and I’m glad we’re finally taking action.

Looking back over my 36 years in Congress and on this committee, there is a lot to be proud of. But, serving as Chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for the last four years has been an honor of a lifetime. We’ve accomplished so much together, and I’m glad we have this last full committee hearing to focus on the incredible accomplishments of the 117th Congress.

Thank you to each of our witnesses for being here today. I know your time is valuable and this committee is grateful for your participation.