February 03, 2014

Rahall: "Our highways will not keep humming along on hope alone"

The Honorable Nick J. Rahall

Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

“Building the Foundation for Surface Transportation Reauthorization”

January 14, 2013

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this important hearing.

Today, we launch the Committee’s work on a surface transportation reauthorization bill.  We have before us a tremendous opportunity as well as a great responsibility: to prudently use the power and the purse of the Federal Government to improve the conditions of our Nation’s roads, bridges, and intermodal facilities.

I have served on this Committee through many highway and transit authorization bills. This bill is not just about extending specific Federal highway, transit, and safety programs – its impact is far greater than that.  We are charting a path forward for economic prosperity, growth, and competitiveness.  We are making a down payment on the safe and efficient movement of people and goods well into the future.  And we are creating good paying, badly needed, American jobs – right here at home.

Unfortunately, given the current status of the Highway Trust Fund, we will be hard-pressed to do any of those things well.  Surely it is no secret that our ability to meet the needs of our highways, bridges, and transit systems has been thrown into neutral in recent years.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the amount of resources necessary to reimburse states and local governments for highway and transit projects already underway is projected to exceed projected Trust Fund revenues in the near future.  For fiscal year 2015 – which begins just nine months from now – the Trust Fund will be $15 billion in the red. 

Hang on to your hats folks, we are to heading toward the cliff.  The signs are there, it’s well-mapped, but absent a concerted, bipartisan course correction, we are barreling over the edge.  This isn’t a game of chicken.  This is a real-life Thelma and Louise moment in the making. 

We have precious little time to shift the gears and shore up the Trust Fund, if we are to successfully rebuild America.  We can no longer ignore the grim reality we face.  

We must work at it because weakened bridges will not stay suspended waiting for us to ponder how long we can drag out the status quo.  Transit systems in a state of disrepair cannot bide their time while we delay. Our highways will not keep humming along on hope alone. 

Yet we cannot address these challenges as a house divided. I know, Mr. Chairman, that you share my commitment to addressing these problems and the urgency which it requires.  I believe that working together, we can show the Nation that Congress does not need to wait until after a crisis to come together, but that we can actually work together to avoid a crisis.

 I look forward to continuing the strong bipartisan relationship fostered on the Committee through our work on WRRDA.  I commend you, Mr. Chairman, for your success on that bill and look forward to working with you, and all of my colleagues on the Committee, to enact a strong highway and transit bill before MAP-21 expires.  

Thank you, and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today.