May 24, 2016

Ranking Member DeFazio's Opening Statement on T&I Hearing:" Improving the Safety and Reliability of the Washington Metro"

Statement of  

The Honorable Peter A. DeFazio

Subcommittee on Highways and TransitHearing on “Improving the Safety and Reliability of the Washington Metro”

May, 24, 2016


Today, we are examining the consequences of a failing public transportation infrastructure system in our nation’s capital region. There are multiple reasons for this failure, but the single most important reason is our lack of commitment nationwide to rebuilding our infrastructure. We patch, we fill cracks, we paint, but we don’t rebuild in a timely manner.

 I am pleased that Congress boosted transit funding in the FAST Act. But let’s be honest - the FAST Act only provided slightly above status quo funding. Congress failed to provide the robust investment levels needed to make a serious dent in the infrastructure deficit and begin to repair and rebuild our aging transit systems.

In 2013, the Federal Transit Administration estimated that more than 40 percent of buses and 25 percent of rail transit assets were in marginal or poor condition. The National State of Good Repair Assessment identified an estimated $86 billion backlog in transit deferred maintenance and replacement needs, a backlog that continues to grow every day.

The Department of Transportation estimates that the average annual level of investment required to eliminate the existing system preservation backlog by 2030 is roughly $18.5 billion.  In comparison, the Fast Act delivers on average just under $10 billion a year.

Up to $7.1 billion in annual expansion investments (through New Starts) may also be required to maintain transit performance at 2010 levels. In comparison, the FAST Act provides only $2.4 billion a year.

The FAST Act investment levels for transit allow us to limp along and only slow the trend of falling further backwards. I believe we can and must do better.

I suspect some of my colleagues believe this is an east coast - west coast liberal problem, and therefore they do not need to be a part of the solution. If fact, it’s a national problem. The lack of transit funding for expansion is hurting middle America too.

Cities like Denver are now constructing transit systems extensions, while Kansas City, Houston, and Phoenix are finalizing their transit project plans.  And smaller cities are finding the need to expand their transit systems. Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, Provo, Reno, and Spokane are finalizing plans to expand their systems.

These cities in middle America are pushing for more transit despite the fact that the federal government pays for 80 percent of new highway capacity projects, but only 50 percent for transit expansion. Despite the hand on the scale in favor of highways, many cities are choosing transit. My colleagues who don’t believe that infrastructure investment in our transit systems is necessary to maintain mobility need a reality check.

Now we all know the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) is currently unsustainable. I have offered several ways to restore the Highway Trust Fund, as have several of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle. But when the House had an opportunity to fix the Highway Trust Fund when the FAST Act was on the House floor, House Republican leadership blocked every attempt to let the House vote on mechanism to fully fund it.

Fixing the Highway Trust Fund today is much easier than fixing it when the FAST Act expires.  The Congressional Budget Office has calculated the next six-year transportation bill will require a $113 billion infusion into the Highway Trust Fund to just maintain baseline spending levels. There will be no easy way to find that kind of money lying around. And if Congress found that money, it would still be seriously underfunding our needs.

Let me now turn to WMATA. They have a lot of challenges ahead, but I am pleased the new General Manager seems to be taking deliberative but forceful actions. The patience of the Washington region will be tested over the next year and probably longer. I am also grateful FTA has taken over direct oversight of WMATA. That was a prudent action.

I will be using the WMATA state of affairs to make the case for real transit investment nationwide. And given Congress’ role in underfunding infrastructure, I believe Congress bears some responsibility.

Let me conclude with a final comment on FTA’s safety authority. I am frustrated by the glacial pace to establish a safety regulatory system over the transit industry. I recognize FTA is making progress, but MAP-21 was passed four years ago, and the State Safety Oversight Agencies have until 2019 to comply with MAP-21.

People’s lives are at stake and Congress directed FTA to get a regulatory system in place. If there are obstacles to getting the final regulations completed, I want to know what they are. Transit systems cannot prosper if they are unsafe, so FTA has to get its job done and oversee the safety of transit agencies.

Thank you.  I look forward to hearing from the witnesses.