February 01, 2023

Ranking Member Larsen Statement from Hearing on the State of Transportation

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, “The State of Transportation Infrastructure and Supply Chain Challenges.” 

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. I look forward to partnering with you in support of our nation’s transportation and infrastructure—a bipartisan tradition of this Committee.  

As Committee Democrats organized this week, we set priorities for this Congress: 

1. Promote investments in a cleaner, greener, safer, and more accessible transportation network; 
2. Ensure these investments create jobs and opportunities for all people; 
3. Build capacity in our communities as they put federal dollars to work; 
4. Restore and protect our environment; and 
5. Safeguard our nation’s economic sustainability and competitiveness. 

I know Members on the other side of the aisle share many of these goals. We stand ready to work together in good faith where we can find common ground.  

We have come a long way in two years. At the start of the 117th Congress, America faced unprecedented economic challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic placed incredible stress on American workers and families as well as massive pressure on supply chains.  

These pressures exposed the fragilities of an aging, congested, and overburdened transportation and infrastructure network that was dangerously overdue for an overhaul—cries for which echoed in the halls of Congress for nearly a decade of Infrastructure Week after Infrastructure Week.    
Last Congress, we finally responded decisively to bolster our economy and limit the fallout from the immediate crisis facing our nation, while modernizing and transforming the way people and goods move, with the passage of several landmark bills: the American Rescue Plan, and the Inflation Reduction Act, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL).  

Of these, this Committee had the largest role in delivering the BIL and will continue to focus on implementation of the $660 billion under U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) that we oversee.  

This dollar amount, and the number of grant opportunities, is significantly larger than any previous transportation or infrastructure authorization administered by DOT. And the pace at which these dollars are reaching communities is truly impressive. 

DOT has already made available over $150 billion in highway, transit, and airport formula funds for Fiscal Years 2022 and 2023.  

These are not federally controlled programs. This funding passes through U.S. DOT directly to states and local governments to build projects—projects designed and built by private sector construction and engineering firms and workers they hire in our districts. That is why you will hear me say frequently: transportation means jobs.  

States have launched 29,000 new projects with federal highway formula funding in FY 2022, according to analysis by ARTBA (American Road & Transportation Builders Association). There is at least one new project underway in every Congressional district in the country.  

The BIL also provides funding for competitive grant programs. To date, the Administration has announced funding for 6,900 projects under competitive grants to over 4,000 communities nationwide for roads, bridges, rail, buses, ferries, ports, safety, and other infrastructure needs. 

BIL grants provide strong support for projects in red and blue states, and in urban and rural areas. Under the RAISE grant program, funds are awarded evenly between rural and urban areas. In the latest round of INFRA grants totaling $1.5 billion, 15 of 26 projects selected were in rural areas. The Rural Surface Transportation Grant Program awarded $274 million to 12 projects in its first funding round.  

BIL grants support major projects that are larger than any one state or community could advance, such as the recently announced grants for the Hudson tunnels in New York and the Brent Spence bridge connecting Ohio and Kentucky.  

BIL also includes grants exclusively for Tribes and local communities, such as Tribal Transportation Program Safety Funds and Safe Streets and Roads for All, to ensure that these communities reap the benefits of transportation investments.  

This is just the start. BIL will deliver benefits for communities across the country and create good jobs for years to come, with guaranteed funding through 2026. That’s four years for the states, local communities, and Tribes we represent to benefit from forward-looking investments in local priorities, put people to work in each of our districts, and maintain and modernize our infrastructure. 

That won’t happen if we play chicken with our competitiveness and threaten the economy with a catastrophic default on our debt. That would set back infrastructure projects immeasurably. 

It won’t happen if we play politics with this money. I caution my colleagues to think hard before seeking to repeal or rewrite the rules for BIL programs. Eliminating programs has an obvious effect. However, even smaller changes to program considerations or eligibilities will block the quick pass-through of these funds to our communities if DOT has to go back to the drawing board.  

Our transportation system’s shortcomings and our planet’s challenges can’t be ignored or wished away. Taking measured action—in line with statutory authority—to evolve how we move people and goods is responsible and appropriate, and that is what this Administration is doing with BIL funding. 

Without the investments made by the major laws enacted last Congress, our economy would be in far worse shape today. This committee held a hearing on industry and labor perspectives on the supply chain crisis in November 2021—where witnesses, many of whom are here again today, hailed the passage of the BIL and its positive impacts to improve our freight network supply chain. 

We will hear today how inflation is undercutting the purchasing power of federal transportation dollars. To the critics who want to brush off the impacts of the BIL, know this—funding provided by this law was the largest increase in investment in over 50 years to roads, bridges, transit, and safety projects. It provides the largest investment in passenger rail service since the Amtrak was established.  

As pointed out in ARTBA’s recent testimony before the Senate, even with inflation taken into account, there has been market growth over the last year in the construction sector; whereas without the BIL, “we would likely be looking at a market contraction.” Congress did its job to give the transportation construction sector the long-term resources to ride out tough economic times. 

Physical assets and facilities are a huge part of rebuilding America’s infrastructure, but they are only one part of the equation. Investing in human infrastructure is equally important to the long-term success and sustainability of our transportation systems and the supply chain network. 

That’s why you’ll see a clear focus among committee Democrats as we oversee implementation of BIL and other laws, and work on new legislative initiatives to protect good wages and benefits, ensure safe working conditions, create opportunities for underrepresented groups, and support strong training and workforce development.  

Thank you to each of our witnesses for joining us today. I look forward to your testimony.