September 20, 2023

Ranking Member Larsen Statement from Hearing on the Oversight of DOT’s Policies and Programs

Washington, D.C.—The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Rick Larsen (D-WA) during today’s hearing titled, “Oversight of the Department of Transportation’s Policies and Programs.”

Video of Larsen’s opening statement is here.

More information on the hearing can be found here.

Ranking Member Larsen:
Thank you, Chairman Graves, for holding this hearing.

Welcome, Secretary Buttigieg, and thank you in advance for what may be a long day to give every Member of our committee an opportunity to ask questions.

Given the pace with which the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has been getting Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) money into the hands of communities, we appreciate your time and know that you would be implementing the BIL and working on critical safety and consumer priorities if you were not here today to answer our questions.

Today, we are here to highlight how federal infrastructure dollars, provided by Congress and distributed by DOT, are benefiting communities and building cleaner, greener, safer and more accessible transportation systems across the country.

Last Congress, this Committee answered the call of states, local and Tribal governments, transit agencies, railroads, airports, ports, labor and other stakeholders to robustly invest in transportation infrastructure.

Congress provided $660 billion in the BIL for roads, bridges, transit, rail, airports, buses, ferries, ports, pipelines, and other safety and infrastructure needs.

The investment and number of new initiatives in the BIL far exceeds previous transportation bills. Congress handed DOT a tall order in implementing this legislation.

I am pleased to say that the pace of funding distribution has been impressive.

In the first two fiscal years of the BIL, the Department distributed over $125 billion in highway funds—mostly directly to states, which states then paint with state money and we get no credit for the work—$39 billion in transit funds, and nearly $10 billion in airport funds to states and localities.

Funding has gone out under more than three dozen competitive grant programs, and more is on the way. As just one example, FRA plans to announce the availability of $14 billion under three rail grants by the end of this year.

These dollars translate into projects on the ground and jobs for American workers.

Through August 2023, BIL dollars administered by the DOT have supported over 50,000 highway projects alone, according to analysis by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.

There is at least one new project underway in every Congressional district in the country.

Thanks to the BIL, in my district, WSDOT is investing nearly $12 million in federal-aid highway funds to rehabilitate the SR 529 Snohomish River Bridge in Everett.

USDOT has awarded $25 million in RAISE grants to Whatcom County to replace the 60-year-old Lummi Island Ferry.

The City of Lynnwood will construct a new six-lane, multimodal bridge over Interstate 5, which will reduce congestion and build a more accessible transportation system for everyone there.

These projects in Washington state and across the country mean jobs—jobs with good wages, benefits, and working conditions for transportation workers. BIL means more jobs in the transportation construction, transit, trucking, aviation, rail and maritime sectors.

Congress did its job to give the transportation construction sector the long-term resources it needs. Without these investments, the economy would be in far worse shape today.

Now, our job is to conduct fair oversight of implementation efforts by DOT, state DOTs, project sponsors, and industry to ensure that projects are delivered quickly and effectively and that the law is implemented in line with Congressional intent.

Congress directed investments in the BIL for many things, including to address climate change and reduce carbon pollution and improve safety and equity outcomes in our transportation networks.

Congress followed the example of states, cities, counties and Tribes across the country who are working to modernize and transform the way people and goods move and to improve outcomes and experiences for the traveling public.

The federal policy changes are now in the hands of USDOT to execute.

I applaud the Department’s efforts to date on this front and the steps taken to prioritize equity considerations in grants, to ensure Disadvantaged Business Enterprises reap the benefits of BIL funding, to address the spike in traffic deaths, and to measure and reduce carbon pollution from transportation sources.

We must now build on the successes of BIL by enacting a strong FAA reauthorization. The House passed H.R. 3935, the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act, in July by a strong bipartisan 351-69 vote.

This bill is a bipartisan effort done in good faith to secure the future of the U.S. aviation system. It will help advance American leadership in aviation safety and aerospace innovation, strengthen and diversify our aviation workforce, improve consumer protections and accessibility, and make groundbreaking investments in sustainability and resiliency.

I am sure, Mr. Secretary, DOT is eager to see this bill enacted into law so you can begin implementing it as well. I urge the Senate to act as soon as possible, so that we can complete a final long-term reauthorization and communities and the traveling public can begin to reap the bill’s benefits.

Aviation is not the only mode in need of our attention. Rail incidents and accidents continue to occur around the country, endangering people and communities. In the seven months since the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, there have been more than 500 train accidents and yet this Committee has not held a rail safety hearing. I urge the Committee to take long overdue action on rail safety.

The Committee is soon expected to act on a pipeline safety authorization bill. According to the Pipeline Safety Trust, pipeline incidents and accidents in vulnerable areas have risen over the past 20 years, highlighting the need for Congress to enact additional pipeline safety measures.

I hope that today’s hearing can be an acknowledgement and celebration of the infrastructure benefits each of our districts and constituents are reaping.

This Committee continues delivering bipartisan solutions for all Americans, thanks to the leadership of Chair Graves. This stands in strong contrast to the chaos in FY2024 funding talks that threaten to end in a self-inflicted government shutdown.

Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for your steady hand in guiding the Department and the priorities Congress has asked you to implement. I look forward to today’s discussion.