February 06, 2020

Chair DeFazio Statement from Hearing on Transportation and Infrastructure Needs on Tribal, Federal, and U.S. Territorial Lands

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 “Assessing the Transportation Needs of Tribes, Federal Land Management Agencies, and U.S. Territories.”


Thank you, Madam Chair, for holding this hearing today to examine the infrastructure needs of tribes, Federal Land Management Agencies, and U.S. territories. An assessment of the Federal-aid highway programs that support critical infrastructure on tribal, Federal and U.S. territorial lands is long overdue.


One of my top priorities in the FAST Act was requiring a negotiated rulemaking committee to establish a Tribal Transportation Self-Governance Program within U.S. DOT, in keeping with other Federal agencies who have successfully implemented similar self-governance programs.


A Tribal Transportation Self-Governance Program will streamline delivery of Federal funds to tribes while easing administrative burdens and allow greater autonomy for tribes to address their unique transportation infrastructure needs. I was pleased to hear that the negotiated rulemaking committee was able to reach agreement last year, and I look forward to DOT beginning implementation of this program in the coming months. I’d also like to thank Head Councilman Garcia and Ms. Clark, who are here with us today, for their work on the negotiated rulemaking committee as tribal representatives.


While this progress is encouraging, the state of transportation infrastructure on tribal lands remains abysmal. I continue to hear from tribal representatives that basic transportation needs are unmet due to a lack of resources, and that critical services—safe routes for school buses, access for first responders, and transit options for commuters—are hindered as a result.


I also look forward to hearing from the Federal Land Management Agencies represented here today. We have seen significant infrastructure improvements on our Federal lands thanks to Highway Trust Fund investments. In FY 2018 alone, FAST Act funding facilitated the rehabilitation of 113 bridges, the construction of 39 new bridges, and the improvement of over 1,600 lane miles on Federal and tribal lands. 


Yet, the needs far outweigh the available resources. The backlog of deferred transportation infrastructure maintenance at Federal Land Management Agencies is staggering. The Forest Service reports a deferred maintenance backlog of $3.6 billion, while the National Parks Service reports a backlog of $6 billion. My district alone has a deferred maintenance backlog of over $100 million for Forest Service roads, trails, and bridges. Addressing these maintenance needs is crucial to ensure these road systems provide access for critical safety needs such as emergency access and wildfire management. 


And finally, we’ll hear today about the transportation and infrastructure needs of U.S. territories. Funding for the Territorial Highway Program has fallen steadily as a proportion of overall funding for the last decade, despite growing needs. Today, territories receive fewer highway program dollars than they received under SAFETEA-LU.


Thank you to our witnesses for being here today, and I look forward to hearing your testimony on how this Committee can uphold its commitment to our tribal, territorial, and Federal partners.


Chair DeFazio’s full remarks can be found here.