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Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2008

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

DEPARTMENTS OF TRANSPORTATION, HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2008

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Mr. SALAZAR. Mr. President, I want to make a few comments about H.R. 3074, the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations Act of 2007, which we passed earlier today by an overwhelming bipartisan majority. This bill will make much-needed investments in aging roads and bridges around the country. It will help make the skies safer for travel. It will revitalize struggling communities with economic development grants. And it will get a roof over the heads of many of the 200,000 veterans who find themselves homeless on any given night.

I want to thank Chairman MURRAY, Ranking Member BOND, Chairman Byrd, Ranking Member COCHRAN, and all the members of the committee for their work on a bill that makes such wise investments in our transportation, in our communities, and in our veterans.

This summer, as Americans took to the highways with their families, traveling long stretches of bumpy roads across aging bridges on their way to their vacation destination, they were painfully aware of our Government's neglect of our transportation infrastructure over the last several years.

Potholes and traffic jams can take a toll on your car and your pocketbook. A 2006 survey showed that driving on rough roads is costing the average urban motorist about $383 a year in added vehicle maintenance costs. With gas inching back toward $3 a gallon, that is an added strain on a family's budget.

Beyond this economic strain, though, failing and deteriorating infrastructure can lead to tragic consequences. Roadway conditions are a significant factor in approximately one-third of traffic fatalities.

The August 1 collapse of I-35W in Minneapolis was among the most tragic examples of this danger. Thirteen people died, and around 100 were injured, when the eight-lane truss bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River.

The Minneapolis disaster has engineers and planners around the country taking a second look at the condition of their bridges. And what they are finding is troubling.

In Colorado, nearly 7 percent of our bridges are structurally deficient and need immediate attention. 110 bridges that belong to the State need full replacement. Another 375 need rehabilitation. Unfortunately, the backlog of bridgework that needs to be done in our State is an overwhelming $758 million. In Colorado and across the country, we desperately need more resources to get this work done. I believe the Senate made a wise investment when it voted overwhelmingly in support of Senator Murray's amendment to add $1 billion in dedicated funding for the Federal Highway Administration's bridge replacement and rehabilitation program.

We also must recommit ourselves to investing in our roads and highways. They are the veins of commerce that sustain our economy. Our ability to move goods and people quickly and safely is absolutely fundamental to continued growth.

The American people, and the people of Colorado, understand this. When I visit a town like Gunnison, maintenance and improvements to Highway 50, which links Pueblo and the Front Range with Gunnison and the Western Slope, is at the top of the list for local elected officials. When I visit Eagle County, Clear Creek County, and Summit County, I-70 investments are front and center. And when I meet with officials in Lamar, Springfield, and Eads, maintenance of Highway 287, part of the ``Ports to Plains'' corridor, is the topic of conversation.

For each of these communities, good roads are essential for economic vitality. Across the political spectrum, across a broad range of interests and professions, Coloradans understand this. Two years ago, we voted to allow the state government to retain an additional $5.7 billion in revenues over 5 years to help fund our schools and our roads. The statewide referendum passed comfortably because the Colorado business community knows that failing infrastructure is a drag on an economy. Smart investments in bridges, roads, and airports yield strong returns over the long term.

The bill we passed earlier today makes these needed investments in our Nation's transportation infrastructure. It allocates $65.7 billion to transportation, including $40.2 billion for highway construction.

This will allow for us to move ahead with several vital projects in Colorado.

Notably, the bill includes $5 million for continued construction of a new interchange near Gate 20 at Fort Carson. The Mountain Post is accommodating two additional brigades and is growing by approximately 12,000 troops over the next 2 years. Gate 20 allows soldiers and contractors to enter the base from Fountain, Pueblo, and points south of the base. The base commander, General Mixon, sees this as a top priority and we help him fulfill it with this bill.

Additionally, the bill provides $2 million for work on the Ports to Plains Highway, U.S. 287, near Lamar. This builds on the over $11 million we have invested in his project over the past 3 years to build the capacity of this major north-south commercial artery. I have driven that road many times over the past few years, and it is improving steadily. You see more trucks on that road now, and you see more goods moving to market more quickly.

In southern Colorado, we have included funding to restore a road leading to one of our newest national parks, Great Sand Dunes, in my native San Luis Valley. 300,000 visitors a year come to Great Sand Dunes. It is a boon to the local economy, and the $3 million for resurfacing State Highway 150 to the Sand Dunes will help more Americans see this treasure of the American West.

But the transportation portion of this bill does not simply fund new roads. It also includes forward-thinking investments in mass transit solutions to reduce the wear and tear on our highways, to save gas, and to unclog traffic jams. This bill includes $70 million for the Denver Regional Transportation District's West Corridor Light Rail Project and $70 million for RTD's Southeast Corridor Multi-Modal Project. Coloradans know it as T-Rex. It blends light rail and highway improvements in one of the largest mass transit projects that is underway in the United States. It is changing how people commute and where they are choosing to live. This bill keeps Denver's transportation revolution on track.

Finally, I would also like to express my strong support for the funding this legislation makes available for the community development block grant program. I have heard from public officials across Colorado, and they all tell me that the CDBG program is one of the most effective Federal Government programs available to cities, towns, and rural communities in our State, and across the Nation.

Last year, Colorado alone received nearly $40 million from the CDBG program, with several towns and cities receiving in excess of $1.5 million apiece. While the President's budget would have cut this funding by 20 percent, the underlying legislation restores those cuts and provides $3.77 billion for the program. We should not be slashing funding for one of our most effective and efficient tools for energizing communities and improving housing infrastructure. This bill does the right thing and restores this program.

I am proud of the bill that we passed--it sets the right priorities and makes smart investments in our transportation infrastructure and in our communities. I want to again thank Chairman MURRAY, Ranking Member BOND, the Appropriations Committee, and their staffs for their work on this bill. I hope it is signed into law.

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