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SEN. DODD: The committee will come to order. Welcome everyone. Welcome, Mr. Secretary, delighted to have you with us this morning. Let me welcome our guests in the hearing room as well, and my colleagues.
And I'm going to make some brief opening comments, turn to Senator Shelby, and then, I'd like to invite my colleagues for any brief opening comments they'd like to make as well, Mr. Secretary, and then we will get to you. And we've got a second panel as well, with some very good witnesses here to talk about "Sustainable Transportation Solutions: Investing in Transit in the 21st Century," is the headline of our hearing here this morning.
Let me first of all welcome, as I said, everyone here, the first in a series of hearings this committee will hold in the coming months as we prepare to write new surface transportation legislation. It comes not a moment too soon in my view.
The challenges our nation faces now are very clear, a deep recession obviously, a dangerous dependence on foreign oil that we are all painfully aware of, energy price volatility, worsening metropolitan traffic congestion, the effects of climate change, and a growing aging population. In my view, each compel us to take a fresh look at our nation's transportation policy, much of which has grown out of the 1956 federal highway -- Federal-Aid Highway Act that created the Highway Trust Fund and the Interstate Highway System back in the mid 1950s.
The highway system set the stage for decades of economic growth and prosperity, much as the construction of the Erie Canal, the transcontinental railroad, the rural electrification did before it, and just as our efforts to build the Internet did in more recent years. With a very different world today, we need a transportation policy that addresses a very different set of challenges that the 21st century poses.
Secretary LaHood, as you well know, federal leadership in transportation is one of the keys to getting our economy growing again, and to a more secure energy future, and to addressing climate change. All of that will require a bold new commitment to public transportation.
And ridership is expected at record levels. Last year, Americans took over 10.7 billion trips on our nation's buses and rail lines, ironically the largest number of public transportation trips taken, since early 1956, the year that President Eisenhower created the Interstate Highway System.
In fact, just in my state alone, I was looking at some of the numbers, and I'm sure my colleagues can cite similar ones, because this is true across the country, I know you're aware of this, Mr. Secretary. But in New Haven, Connecticut line had a 1.4 million more customers, almost a 4 percent increase over 2007. The New Haven line branch line rail service also experienced an increase.
The Waterbury line, with a growth of 34 percent over 2007, the Shore Line East which runs along from New London towards New Haven in Connecticut, for those familiar with the state, saw a 12 percent increase with over 500 -- almost 540,000 new customers traveling those lines. And there are several more in my state that just, to cite this across-the-board increase.
And so in many ways, the public in the country are ahead of us on this issue. It is not a question of promoting growth of transit systems -- the growth is there. The question whether or not we are going to accommodate it, be able to service it well, as well as the increase in demand I think will come in the coming years.
As I mentioned, my state is working towards a Tri-City Corridor commuter line, linking major cities and towns in one of the densest corridors in the state, and the country for that matter. This will reduce congestion along I-91, New Haven to Springfield, going to Massachusetts, on to Vermont. So again, it's not just a localized, but a regional corridor that could really deal with, both energy, environment, housing, and transportation issues simultaneously.
Anyway despite these obviously benefits, too often over the past half century, transit has taken a back seat, the funding of our roads and highways. And while the federal government is prepared to pick up 80 percent of the costs, for new highway capacity projects, it generally pays less than half of that number for new transit projects.
Of course roads and highways will continue to be an essential to our nation's economic growth. And none of us are arguing that point at all. And their competitiveness as well, as well as our states' role in building them. But America will never ever meet the challenges of this century we are in, with 50 states carrying out 50 different plans without a national vision of where we need to go in transit issues.
The time has come, in my view, to put transit in the drivers' seat again, to lay the groundwork for an integrated transportation system that coordinates land use and economic development plans to meet today's challenges. By coordinating housing and transportation policy to encourage smart land use, we can generate economic growth and create vibrant communities where people can live and work with a smaller carbon footprint.
Transit is a fundamental building block of economic growth. I recently was in North Carolina where the city of Charlotte is demonstrating the difference, transit-oriented development can make, spurring ($)2 billion in private development along its new light rail lines in that city.
A brownfield site in Connecticut is another such project that is along those same lines as Charlotte. When completed, the Fairfield Metro Center is expected to include 860,000 square feet of office space, retail space, as well as a hotel and condominiums creating 3,000 construction jobs, and more importantly, almost 3,000 permanent jobs, powered by fuel cells, solar power, and other energy efficient technologies. And it's all contingent on an access to mass transit.
These types of projects didn't happen by accident. They happened because community leaders recognized the need to integrate land use in transportation decisions and involve every aspect of a city government, from planning to public works in the effort.
Secretary LaHood, it's time, as I know you are aware, that the federal government mirrored the examples set by these communities. They are doing it on their own. They are really moving aggressively. We need to catch up with them, in a sense here, if we are going to succeed. That is why I've written to President Obama, urging him to establish a White House office of sustainable development to ensure that we are coordinating all of these issues, the most comprehensive integrated holistic way -- in the most comprehensive holistic way possible.
As Chairman of this committee, I intend to make public transportation a priority, because it is critical to making our entire transportation system work, getting our economy moving again, and addressing the challenges that we will face in the decades to come. And this committee -- with this committee's work this year, and with your leadership, Mr. Secretary, I'm confident we can make that happen. And so I can't tell you how pleased I am that you are here with us this morning.
We'll have our second panel as well, and we talk about here, the authorization of a surface transportation bill; not the reauthorization -- the authorization, because we truly need to think afresh on this project. And as I said a moment ago, the public is way ahead of us on this; our communities are moving way ahead of us on this. And we need to catch up with them to make this work in an integrated fashion.
With that, Senator Shelby.
SEN. RICHARD C. SHELBY (R-AL): Thank you, Senator Dodd.
Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for appearing before us today to discuss the importance of public transportation. I also appreciate our other witnesses that will testify on the second panel.
Today, Mr. Secretary, as you well know, our nation is facing the worst financial crisis in nearly a century, and millions of people are out of work and struggling. Public transportation can be an important tool, particularly in times such as these, that provides reliable access to jobs, child care, health care, and other vital services.
Promoting and supporting policies that ensure these important services are maintained, is essential to us. The future of our nation's transportation infrastructure is at crossroads. We must decide if our next step will be incremental or transformative. Ultimately, any proposal we adopt must balance flexibility with stringent spending requirements and long-term sustainability.
Last year, public transportation experienced record ridership. Initially, much of the increase was due to the spike in gas prices. Over time, however, these increases have lasted and have proved to be both a blessing and a curse for transit systems. While a spike in fuel prices caused an increase in transit ridership, it also resulted in a significant decline in gas tax receipts into the highway trust fund.
This unpredictable fluctuation is precisely why we must consider, Mr. Secretary, alternative forms of financing of our nations' public transportation infrastructure. Some have proposed significantly increasing gas taxes. I do not believe that raising taxes during the economic crisis makes sense. We must consider innovative alternatives and encourage creativity in the market place.
By most estimates, it will require nearly $200 billion to simply maintain our current surface transportation infrastructure. This need far outstrips our current funding capacity. More importantly, the $200 billion estimate does not account for new projects that add capacity or replace existing systems. Clearly, Mr. Secretary, financing these projects is going to be a significant challenge for all of us.
In addition to financing, we must also look at the question of accountability for maintaining a state of good repair. We have heard a great deal about our nation's crumbling infrastructure, and the trillions of dollars necessary to rehabilitate, or to replace it. Nevertheless, the federal government continues to provide hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure projects without any requirement to maintain them.
The federal transit administration imposes an extremely rigorous approval process for major capital projects. And yet, there is very little follow up or accountability regarding long-term maintenance as it should be. Even more disturbing is the lack of requirements to bring an existing system up to a state of good repair before new funding for expansion is allowed.
This gap ultimately exacerbates the overall problem. In light of the continued request for additional infrastructure funding, I believe this is an area that requires thorough review and significant reform. These are just a few examples of the many years that I believe we must address during what I hope are a number of hearings on this reauthorization.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman
SEN. DODD: Thank you Senator very much.
SEN. JACK REED (D-RI): Well, thank you very much Mr. Chairman and Representative LaHood, Ray, welcome.
I also want to welcome Beverly Scott, who will be on the next panel. Beverly was the director of Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority. And now she is -- she took her heart and her money down to Atlanta, so we -- we will talk about that later.
But we are in an interesting situation where we are seeing increased demand for transit services across the country, but because of operating funding difficulties we are seeing service cutbacks that seem to be absolutely counterintuitive. So I think it requires us to think seriously about operating the system, but also a new, more stable funding mechanism for transit across the country; not 50 different models, but one unified model.
I know the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has provides assistance to transit systems which are necessary, but that's more of a stopgap than a permanent long-term stable approach, which I think we need. And as the chairman and the ranking member suggested, these issues are intertwined not only with transit policy but with environmental policy, with good land use policy, with economic development, and a host of others.
This really could be one of the keys to the new economy that we are all trying to bolster. So I'm particularly delighted, Mr. Secretary, that you are there. You bring great judgment and great integrity and decency to the job. And I look forward to working with you.
And I have a longer statement which I would make part of the record, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. DODD: Thank you very much, Senator. Senator Bennett.
SEN. ROBERT F. BENNETT (R-UT): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate your calling the hearing. Secretary LaHood, welcome. We are delighted to have you here and appreciate your expertise.
As I listened to you, Mr. Chairman, talk about the impact of mass transit on a city, my mind goes back to the experience of the Washington Metro. I was involved in transportation issues when the Metro in Washington was first conceived and then built.
And I remember, and will not rehearse here, the attitude of citizens in Georgetown who said they did not want a metro-stop in Georgetown, that, for whatever reason, was all right for other people to have one, but they didn't want one in Georgetown.
And now, we look back on it.
There is a metro-stop across the river from Georgetown, in Rosslyn, Virginia, which is where my wife and I have our temporary home; permanent one being in Salt Lake. I have to make sure the local papers get that.
And you see the difference that has occurred around the metro- stops that are available in Northern Virginia and what the situation is in Georgetown. Now, maybe the people in Georgetown like it, although I understand they are now lobbying for a metro-stop in Georgetown.
But when you look at the economic development that has occurred as a result of the metro-stops that are available, the buildings that have been built, and start to think about the property taxes that are being paid and the economic activity that is producing income taxes, you say, transit produces significant economic advantages to those who take advantage of it. And we often don't think of that.
You made reference to it in your opening statement that I want to underline it. I've seen it happen here in Washington, and I've seen it happen in Salt Lake. Whereas, we have produced a light rail system, businesses that are along the light rail system are now beginning to flourish.
And an entire housing area, on land that would otherwise not be used, is springing up because they are going to have a line of the light rail go to that area. And that means residents of that area can commute from downtown, if they want, without having to be adding to the congestion.
It's creating a whole new housing market simply because there will be a transit stop. Those are the kinds of vision that we need to keep in mind as we deal with our testimony here today, and I applaud you in your determination to see to it that mass transit becomes an important part of the agenda in this committee this year.
SEN. DODD: Well, Mr. Chairman, -- Senator Bennett, I appreciate your comments. But I guess a lot of us grew up with the notion of being still living along the tracks, that you would have a devaluation in property. That was considered not the most ideal place to live. Because what Charlotte has proved and others are proving, in fact being along the tracks, does just the opposite in effect today.
It's a different mentality altogether. And as you say, you can then start deciding on smart land use issues, climate change issues, energy use -- I mean the energy connection, and the transit are just stunning the numbers, if you start looking at how much actually gets saved as a result of moving in this transit area. So I appreciate your comments.
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D-OR): Thank you, Mr. Chair, and welcome, Mr. Secretary. I simply associate myself with the comments of my colleagues, and add that transit in Oregon has been incredibly important. Certainly from the view point of economic development and the view point of reducing our carbon footprint and certainly in contributing to the form of our cities.
It has been a key to the success of our urban growth boundaries, strategy to preserve open spaces, and create livable neighborhoods. I certainly appreciate your leadership and look forward to working with you. Thank you.
SEN. DODD: Senator Bennet.
SEN. MICHAEL F. BENNET (D-CO): Thank you Mr. Chairman. I first want to say a word of introduction later about Mayor Hickenlooper, but I want to thank you and the ranking member for having John Hickenlooper here from Denver. I can't think of anybody better situated to talk about these issues other than John.
Mr. Secretary, welcome to the committee. Happy to have you here.
There are a lot of exciting things going on in Denver when it comes to transit. The FasTracks project, which our Mayor will talk about, marks the largest rail expansion in the country. And it's a model of cooperation of local and federal government.
By the time the project is completed in 2017, the Denver area will have six new commuter rail and light rail corridors, three extensions of existing corridors, 18 miles of Bus Rapid Transit, and 21,000 new parking spaces, not to mention a redeveloped Denver Union Station.
And at least when I was helping the Mayor get this passed, when I worked for him, we used to claim, Mr. Chairman, that this would cover an area the size of the state of Connecticut. And it's coming along very well, but as you said, our local communities are really ahead of the federal government when it comes to investment. And much of their investments are based on sales tax.
And I think I would like to see us produce a bill in this committee that shows our commitment to helping local transportation entities more adequately meet these goals, because they are so critical. Finally, I just want to say that this bill has a lot of significance to transit in the rural areas as well.
While urban areas receive the bulk of federal transit dollars, I want to make sure we don't forget our rural communities during this reauthorization process. An increasing number of seniors and people with disabilities rely on public transportation in the rural parts of Colorado, and it's very important that we keep them in mind as we think about this.
Mr. Chairman, I've got a longer statement I'd like included in the record. Thank you.
SEN. DODD: It will be so included. And thank you for your comments. It will be -- give you an opportunity to give a formal welcome to the Mayor when we get to the second panel.
Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for being with us. And I hope these opening comments where of some help to give you an idea how -- there are a lot of issues in which we spend a lot of time working together on. I think this is going to be one of them as well, where you're looking at a committee here that is not divided between Red and Blue states or R's and D's, but people who have a deep interest in the subject matter.
It's a unique area of jurisdiction of this committee, many ways going back many years, but a very, very important one, one that I want to highlight. And obviously your participation will mean a great deal in that. The floor is yours.
SEC. LAHOOD: Chairman Dodd, Ranking Member Shelby, and members of the committee, I'm pleased to appear before you today to discuss issues related to the reauthorization of Federal public transportation programs.
This hearing is especially timely for two reasons. First, as you know, the current authorization legislation SAFETEA-LU expires at the end of Fiscal Year 09. I hope Congress can act swiftly to pass new legislation to assure that these important programs continue uninterrupted.
Investing in surface transportation is one of President Obama's key economic initiatives. The administration surface transportation authorization proposal continues that important work. Improving the efficiency and reliability of our surface transportation system is vital to enhancing the nation's productivity and competitiveness.
Second, with the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, hundreds of ready-to-go capital transit projects are poised to begin. These projects will create thousands of jobs quickly. And they will enable transit operators around the country to improve and expand service to millions of customers.
We need an innovative and forward-looking reauthorization package to keep the economic recovery going in the public transportation sector. And we need to insure that local communities can establish and preserve sustainable, safe, and environmentally friendly transportation -- transit systems that improve mobility and reduce traffic congestion.
We should also find new ways to deliver federal surface transportation programs in light of the industry's fiscal challenges. Over the last year, transit ridership has attained its highest level in more than 50 years. To handle the growth in demand, the industry needs roughly ($)22 billion annually to improve conditions and performance of existing transit systems.
The nation's oldest rail city, such as New York and Chicago, are in serious condition as well. We are in the process of releasing a report to Senator Durbin and others, describing the conditions of the nation's seven largest rail transit operators. In a nutshell, there is a significant backlog of unmet recapitalization needs of about $50 billion.
The administration believes the next authorization should address five critical areas. First, as I noted, investments have not kept pace with needs. Therefore, I ask the committee and Congress to look closely at new ways to structure funding for transit and highway programs.
Second, we should do more to improve safety. The level of transportation-related fatalities in this country across all service modes is unacceptable. We need data driven performance based safety programs to identify what works, followed by swift implementation of these solutions.
Third, we should promote more livable communities. The era of one-size-fits-all transportation project should be replaced by an emphasis on preserving and enhancing the things that make each community special. That means expanding travel choices, including transit wherever possible. This helps to reduce green house gases emissions, and slows the pace of climate change.
Four, President Obama has stressed the need for accountability, transparency, and performance throughout the federal government. The next authorization package should require every program and initiative to reflect these core principles. To accomplish this, we may need to find new ways of doing business and implement stringent new performance measures. This is the right way to -- this is the right thing to do for taxpayers.
And finally, throughout our nation's history, transportation has been marked by innovation. We must carry that tradition forward, by investing in technology and smarter ways of delivering transportation systems and services. These investments will pay off in greater safety, less congestion, and a state-of-the-art transportation infrastructure system for America.
Mr. Chairman, many public transportation challenges await our action and leadership. In addition to a strong reauthorization bill, we'll need to address the future of the highway trust fund, commitment authority for New Starts program, and the potential creation of a national infrastructure bank. And I look forward to working with you on these issues.
And let me just say parenthetically, this is not a part of my statement. I don't think there is another administration that's ever come to this town that has -- knows more about transit and public transportation than this.
President Obama is from Chicago. And I can tell you that he has ridden lots of buses and lots of transit transportation. And when you look, his chief of staff is from Chicago. Again, these folks have utilized public transportation and transit in many different forms in the city from which they come. And so, they understand this issue very well, because they've used these systems.
And I also want to make note of the Mayor of Denver who came to my office about a week ago with a very good suggestion, which he and I are going to implement. He offered the opportunity to bring about 8 or 10 mayors to Washington to meet with me to talk about the future, and to talk about innovative approaches that they've taken around the country. And we have a meeting scheduled, I think a week from Monday in my office, with eight or ten mayors to talk about the way forward.
We know that the cities are really the incubators of a lot of good ideas, some that have been implemented and some that people are thinking about. So I'm delighted that the Mayor of Denver is a part of the second panel today.
I look forward to your questions and thank you for the opportunity to be here today.
SEN. DODD: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Secretary, and thank you for your statement as well. And I think -- I commend you on the idea of listening to our mayors of our cities in smaller communities as well that can bring some great ideas.
And let me just parenthetically say, I appreciate your particular comments on the infrastructure bank ideas. You know I've offered that legislation along with Chuck Hagel, a former member of this committee. People like Warren Rudman, Bob Kerry were involved it, Felix Rohatyn. The Center for Strategic and International Studies did a lot of work over the last several years in helping us develop the idea.
And I was pleased to see that President Obama included that in the budget request as well. And we are going to sit down and work as we need creative ideas in funding, in leveraging private capital.
The mayor of Vancouver, Canada -- and I was talking with Governor Schwarzenegger the other day on a number of these matters, and he highlighted the significant work the mayor of that city in Canada has done by utilizing an infrastructure bank in terms of supporting the needs of the infrastructure demands of that city. So we are going to proceed with that idea as well.
As you point out, just talking about additional money without having creative ideas and how we can attract different sources of capital are commended, but it is not going to make much of a difference.
Let me just mention, because you and I've talked about this, and obviously this is not really a question for you. But this -- the whole notion of this -- of what I'm trying to do in the Tri-City development of New Haven, Connecticut, to Springfield and to Vermont is, I think a wonderful example of something that may not be shovel- ready tomorrow. But certainly is shovel-ready very quickly; and is a demonstrable evidence of what could be done in terms of linking up communities, reducing traffic congestion, helping smart growth in a fairly congested area.
And so I'd raise the issue with you and your office, and we would ask you to pay some attention to that if you could, as an example, of what can happen here in this development of transit policy.
Secondly, and you've made this point as well, and I think, all of us have here, the numbers, the growth numbers are really rather remarkable, and I think every evidence is going to stay with us, given the economic conditions we have. And I think once people, even though they may have gotten into the use of transit for reasons that they didn't particularly like, because of the cost of gasoline and others.
I think it's one of those things that once you experience it, you start utilizing it, you realize how easy it is, how comfortable it is, how time -- saving time it is, in terms of using it. So while we are in this and people may be using it for reasons they didn't anticipate, once that starts, I think it gets very difficult to turn it around. And I think you'll hear that from some of our witnesses as well today.
Let me, if I can, just raise a couple of questions, if I can. One is, it has to do with the Office of Sustainable Development, which I mentioned in the letter to the president, to bring together your office, the Office of Department of Energy and Housing, as well as the environmental issues together to link these up in a way that we've never really done before.
We have this sort of stovepipe mentality, sort of separate issues that we deal with separately, and not a lot of that interconnectability between these questions of housing, transportation, energy, and environment. And I wonder what role you might see the Department of Transportation obviously playing in cooperating with other federal agencies to help meet these challenges and what steps you might prepare to take help coordinate this effort.
SEC. LAHOOD: Well, I haven't talked to the president about your letter Mr. Chairman, but sustainability is a very, very important aspect of what we are doing at the Department of Transportation. And if the president decides to accept your idea, we want to be a big player in sustainability.
What we are doing now with the economic program, the recovery program, is trying to get people to work very quickly. But we know that sustainability on a number of these things that we are doing very quickly here, can be very important.
And I also think the idea of sustainability in terms of livable communities and what you're talking about in terms of your own state, and the idea of connecting these communities, and having people have opportunities to get away from their cars, and get away from congestion and live in communities that offer lots of different amenities, and lots of different options. I think the idea of livable communities, sustainability, and really tying it into the economic recovery, but also the authorization of transit, all of these things are tied together.
And so, I look forward to working with you. If we get a signal from the president to be a part of this team, we want to be a big player in this.
SEN. DODD: But you can be obviously, and I would urge you maybe to even be an advocate. As they are sitting down and asking about these things it would be helpful. And our intention here with the committee is to invite you along with others from the respective four secretaries, as I've mentioned to come together under the auspices of this committee, if necessary, to begin to talk about how we do coordinate that, but it is important.
Let me mention two other issues to you, quickly if I can. One, has to do with just the inequities in many ways of the competing systems, so when we start talking about transportation, between the highway and transit programs. When a state or a city or a region wants to build a new highway, or a new lane of traffic, there are very few questions asked by the federal government in that process.
On the other hand, when a state or a region or city enters the New Starts process, which involves answering a multitude of questions, and in undergoing a rigorous analysis they can take years in some cases, a decade or more, what I believe -- certainly, I believe there are benefits to a rigorous review, not arguing to the contrary.
Buy it seems to me that the burdensome -- literally an incredible burdensome path that you must follow, when you seek transit support, as opposed to highway support. And that's just -- I think everyone knows this. But it clearly, if you got to go through it, you get the easier money, not to mention the percentages, then obviously the option is quite clear, what people are going to opt for.
Many communities, rural and urban, would like to be in a neutral position where they can make decisions that they think serve their needs best. But when there is a bias, both in terms of the bureaucracy as well as cost, then you get a predictable outcome, it seems to me. And so I wonder if you could comment on that.
SEC. LAHOOD: Well, I think this -- I think, now that we have built a state-of-the-art interstate system in this country and we know now that people's choices are for transit, I think you are going to see us in the department, develop hopefully, a system whereby it becomes easier. And we become more open-minded about the idea that transit will become the transportation of choice for many, many communities and many, many people around the country.
And we can develop a system that makes it easier and less bureaucratic for communities to really have access to these kinds of programs and these dollars. And I think the legislation that you all draft can send a pretty strong message in that regard also.
Transit and the forms of transportation we're talking about here really, now have come into their own. And it is an opportunity, I think, to send a message not only to our department, but around the country, that it is going to be the choice of transportation for many, many Americans. And we ought to make it -- the opportunities available to people without a lot of bureaucratic red tape. It has to be done correctly and done right. But it -- we should make it accessible in terms of a lot less bureaucracy.
SEN. DODD: But -- and I don't want you to -- I'm sure, I'm expressing the views of all of us here. This is not a question of being anti-highway, quite the contrary. We understand that. But just so there is sort of that level playing field, and I welcome your comments, and would very much like to have our staffs work with yours, because obviously, it's important to have the support of the Department of Transportation as we move forward, not just a committee bill.
SEC. LAHOOD: Of course.
SEN. DODD: But I appreciate your point. The last point I want to make to you is one that's -- is also of concern. It has been well documented by this committee and others that multi-year dedicated funding is critical to building and maintaining transportation systems. Congress realized this when as part of the TEA-21 of the 1990s we established budgetary firewalls to ensure that the authorized funding levels in the transportation bill were real, guaranteed funding.
This has been a great success in the past decade. It's unique in the sense that the authorizing committees have that firewall built-in. So your authorizing numbers become your appropriated numbers. The administration -- this has been very successful in the past decade.
And I was disappointed that the administration's budget included a provision that would weaken these guarantees. And I, along with Senator Shelby and our counterparts in the authorizing committee sent a letter to the administration expressing our opposition to the proposed change -- I hear. I wonder if you would comment on that.
SEC. LAHOOD: Well, I saw your letter, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Shelby, and others. And I know of your concern. And what we will try and do is as good members of this administration, work with you and your committee to reach some kind of a consideration for the issues that you raise in your letter.
I understand completely, as a former member of the House, a former member of the T&I authorization committee, and a former appropriator, I know of what you speak. And so we will work with you and obviously, we need to bring OMB into the mix on this, and take into consideration, the concerns that you've expressed in that letter.
SEN. DODD: Well, I appreciate that very much. Because -- and the obvious point here is, if we all of a sudden, fundamentally alter this funding scheme, then the idea of doing many of the things we are talking about is dealt a significant blow --
SEC. LAHOOD: Sure.
SEN. DODD: -- to those efforts and a fundamental alteration of decade's long policy. So I welcome your comments. And we will work very closely --
SEC. LAHOOD: Sure.
SEN. DODD: -- to try and alter that.
SEN. SHELBY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Secretary LaHood, I'm extremely concerned about continuing to make investments in infrastructure, without any requirement for maintaining the state of good repair long term. In your testimony, you referenced the rail modernization study, and that there is a backlog of $50 billion in unmet recapitalization needs of the nation's seventh largest rail transit operators.
It's my understanding; these properties have received billions in federal funding for new projects too. What can we do to make certain that we adequately monitor and ensure the long term maintenance of these assets and what does the administration intend to propose on this front?
SEC. LAHOOD: Well, we do have a study that we are going to be looking at very carefully, as I indicated that -- has looked at all of the assets and what we need to do going forward. And obviously, that will be made available to all of you. And we -- I think, we have to be committed not only to continuing progress in the way forward, but we also have to take care of the assets that we have. And I think you'll see in the report; there will be opportunities to do that.
SEN. SHELBY: Secretary, in the last authorization bill, we attempted here to streamline the New Starts process and add additional categories for consideration during project evaluation.
Nevertheless, the process continues to take what seems like an inordinate amount of time and many of the factors Congress added, including the economic development, still have not been implemented. I know you're new in your job, Mr. Secretary. But I'm interested in your thoughts on the overall process and what changes can be made to ensure that it can move forward more expeditiously, while still conducting a thorough evaluation.
SEC. LAHOOD: What we have found in the process of implementing the recovery act, where we were provided by Congress in the bill about $8 billion for transit, that we have been able to work pretty efficiently and effectively and pretty quickly with the transit districts in identifying some projects. And we'll be making those known very soon.
So we know that it's possible, in working with the different transit authorities and officials around the country that these things can be streamlined and the money can get out quick. And we've established a little model here during this recovery opportunity to make that happen and we hope that that can continue in the future.
SEN. SHELBY: Mr. Secretary, you bring the unique background here as to your job as a cabinet member and Secretary of Transportation and we are very aware of this. I'm interested in learning more about the administration's plans for the future of the Highway Trust Fund.
Specifically, do you anticipate continuing financing of surface transportation from the Highway Trust Fund including public transportation, or do you expect more funding to come from the general fund?
SEC. LAHOOD: Well, I think this. I think that the Highway Trust Fund was adequate for building a state-of-the-art interstate system. We are the model for the world. And when people look at America and see our interstate system, there -- they use it as a model.
And the Highway Trust Fund was provided the adequate funding to make that happen. But it's an antiquated system now. I think what we should do is continue, the Highway Trust Fund, but we have to build on that. There are simply not enough resources in the Highway Trust Fund to fund all the things that you and we at the department would like to do.
And there are a lot of creative ideas out there, public-private partnerships, tolling of lanes. I was in Miami, Florida a week ago. I was on Interstate 95 where they build a lane with tolls and it was -- you know, it was right next to -- it was right on the same road, creative way to do it, because there wasn't enough money in the Highway Trust Fund to do it.
And so -- look at -- there is about five or six very creative ideas that we can build on the Highway Trust Fund in order to get to where we want to be with all of the infrastructure needs that I know that are needed and we've identified and you've all identified. But the Highway Trust Fund is insufficient to continue what we want to do in America with highways and bridges and our infrastructure.
SEN. SHELBY: But Secretary, as you well know, certainty is very important in the planning and financing of transit projects and so forth. The Highway Trust Fund and the guarantees provided in the authorization bill have provided certainty for long-term planning and financing of transportation projects.
Are you concerned that increased reliance on the general fund could displace the certainty and result in difficulties conducting long range planning and raising capital? Or do you think that will complement what we are doing?
SEC. LAHOOD: Well, I'm going to let -- I'm going to let you all decide whether you want to use general revenue, and put it in the Highway Trust Fund. I'd rather -- I'd rather talk from the point of view of a national infrastructure thing, public-private partnerships, tolling of roads, and other ways -- creative ways of thinking about building on the Highway Trust Fund.
You know, I'm not prepared to say here today -- you know, I'll leave that to all of you that are going to have to make those hard decisions as were made last year, when $8 billion dollars was put into the Highway Trust Fund. I'd rater talk from the point of view of -- let's be creative and try and find other creative ways to supplement the Highway Trust Fund.
SEN. SHELBY: But you believe certainty in the planning is important too?
SEC. LAHOOD: There is no question about it. People have to know where the money is coming from, and then that will be there --
SEN. SHELBY: Absolutely.
SEC. LAHOOD: When these important road, bridge, and other infrastructure projects. We have to have certainty about where they money is coming form. No question about it.
SEN. SHELBY: Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. DODD: Thank you very such Senator. Senator Jack Reed.
SEN. REED: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and again, welcome Secretary. In your comments to obtain money, you talked about at least thinking about providing some operating assistance to transit agencies. And if you could elaborate on that, and also the challenge of ensuring that there is a maintenance of effort by local and state communities, because they are under pressure too. And you know, there is a strong temptation I think, for, if we will do it, they won't. So could you comment on that, Mr. Secretary?
SEC. LAHOOD: Sure. Senator, when I was in Congress, I represented a couple of fairly good-sized communities, Peoria and Springfield, who had good transit systems. And I tried to be helpful in making sure that they had the equipment.
But if you have the equipment without people to operate the equipment, it does you no good. You can't provide the service. And I know that transit districts and transit systems have an inability to use some of their money for operational purposes. And I'm speaking for my self now, okay.
And what I told the folks at the transit meeting, I'm going to be open-minded about this. We -- well, look, we have to be realistic about these things. We have to use a little bit of commonsense here. If you have all the great equipment, but it is sitting and not really delivering people where they want to go, because you don't have people to drive the buses, or drive, the trains, or whatever. Then we should do something about that.
And I want to be open-minded about the idea that some of these funds could be operating. Now, that's Ray LaHood's point of view, and I want to work with the administration. I want to work with all of you, I want to work with these folks that are in a real pickle right now about trying to find out how they are going to pay their bus drivers and train drivers and all these other folks, engineers. But I think we need to be open-minded about these things. And I'm willing to do that.
SEN. REED: Well, thank you Mr. Secretary. Last year, at the end of the previous Congress, your predecessor used your authority, which was clear and legal, to allocate a portion of so-called lapse funds; projects that had been authorized, appropriated because the funds, because of local problems of matching funds and local problems of environmental clearances, et cetera, weren't used.
One of those projects was in Rhode Island, but there are several other projects across the country. In the Omnibus Appropriations Act the president signed yesterday, we are urging you to use the remaining unobligated funds to go back and to fund these projects that have, as I said, been duly authorized. And I would hope that you could commit to your best efforts to using these unobligated funds that exist to go back and fulfill the requirements and the authorization directions in the Congress.
SEC. LAHOOD: Well, sir, this is what I'll pledge to you and the other members of the committee and to any member of Congress. As a former member, I know that when these particular projects are placed in a bill that they are important to people. And they are important to the people around the country, who would be served by these.
And my pledge is to look at the unobligated funds in the context of the way that they were included in a particular bill, for a particular area, and do all that we can to be very open-minded about doing what we can to make sure the intend of Congress is carried out.
SEN. REED: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, and we will help you to keep that mind opened and focused. I think, well, just a final comment, I think all of the questions so far have suggested that we are on the verge of a significant change in the way we fund transit projects and highway projects.
One factor is the declining productivity of the gas tax, which we have to recognize. Others is the need to recognize environmental cost, externalities to traffic and travel and congestion, and all these other things. And I know you thought about these things. And I just want to simply say, I look forward to working with you as we deal with some very difficult and challenging issues, but fundamental to our economic progress.
SEC. LAHOOD: Thank you, sir.
SEN. REED: And I'm glad you are there doing it.
SEC. LAHOOD: Thank you, sir.
SEN. DODD: Thank you, Senator.
SEN. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Secretary, I have two issues I want to raise with you, based on our experience in Utah. And let me preface the remark by saying that our experience in Utah with the Department of Transportation, and particularly, FTA has been very, very good.
We've built what we think is a model system. And our cooperation -- the degree if cooperation we've had with the feds has been terrific. Having said that, there are two areas where we may have a little bit of heartburn.
The first one is the New Starts process. It's become lengthy and time consuming. And when it becomes time consuming, it becomes expensive. It's a little bit over-complicated, and we would like to know if you have plans to help streamline the process, so that it might move a little more rapidly, and that helps speed delivery and helps cut cost.
The second one is the ongoing debate about the role of program of projects. We have bundled our activities into a program of projects and we've had the experience of having to re-explain this on occasions where it got approved.
And then, well, maybe, we are going to fund this and not that, because the local match isn't there, and we go back to the original conversations and say, but the local match is there once you take this whole thing as a program of projects. Now this -- maybe is down in the weeds, but these are the issues that we deal with most directly, and I would appreciate your comment about both of these.
SEC. LAHOOD: Well, as I said earlier, we have found in our ability to get the money out the door in the economic recovery plan, whether it's ($)28 billion for roads and bridges, whether it's the ($)8 billion for transit, whether we are putting together some criteria for our discretionary pot of money.
These things can be done in a more expedited way. And I want to make it clear, things are going to be done by the book, by the law, but there are ways to streamline, Senator. And I want you to know that we have found those ways in our ability to comply with the law that was passed by Congress, which said, get the money out the door in a 120 days and have it spent in 18 months. We're going to comply with that.
So my answer is, there are ways to make sure that we don't cut corners, and we don't go against what the Congress has passed, but our ability to cut through some of the bureaucracy at DOT, and we did it by really putting together what we call the TIGER team. A group of people from all the different modes that meet every day and talk about, okay, what's the next box we have to check, what's the next rule or regulation that we have to meet.
All done by the book, but -- by just by people sitting together talking to one another from the different modes, so you know, people really have an understanding. And we've shown that we can do it under the recovery bill and get the money out the door, and I think we can do it in this instance also, and I pledge to you that we will work very hard to do that.
SEN. BENNETT: Thank you. I appreciate that, and of course no one is asking you to cut corners.
SEC. LAHOOD: No, sir, I know that.
SEN. BENNETT: We understand that. But as you pointed out, there are ways to do it, perhaps more efficiently. Can you comment upon the program of projects situation, or do you want to get back to --
SEC. LAHOOD: I'd rather get back to you on that Senator.
SEN. BENNETT: All right.
SEC. LAHOOD: I've just -- I don't feel I can really give you a very good answer. But I'll be happy to get back to you.
SEN. BENNETT: I would appreciate if you would focus on that, because that becomes, that has become a key issue on how we deal with the question of the local match and what we put into the mix to provide the local match. And if it then gets broken up, and each project is viewed as an individual project, then local match that was pledged to the overall situation suddenly disappears. And we are told, no, we can't fund beyond a certain level because local match isn't there. That's the difficulty with respect to this and I'm grateful that you would take a look at it.
SEC. LAHOOD: Yes, sir.
SEN. BENNETT: Thank you.
SEN. DODD: Senator Merkley.
SEN. MERKLEY: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
And Secretary, I want to start by following up on questions Senator Bennett raised in regard to Small Starts. And specifically let me again -- first just by inviting you to come out to Oregon. We would love to show you our streetcar system, which has been become very, very popular and contributed enormously to reducing our carbon imprint and stimulating the economic development and certainly making the city far more livable.
And -- so I look forward to checking in with your team to see if you might be able to join us out in Oregon. In regard to that particular streetcar project, our delegation sent you a letter in January, noting the successes and -- but also noting how additional streetcar projects seemed very difficult to get initiated under the Small Starts program. And you were very kind in replying to us that you shared our concerns and that you'd be looking into this.
We pointed out that there have been essentially, an institutional bias previously, in not using that program to support streetcars, and so I really want to thank you for your reply, and I want to follow up on that. And ask if indeed you can continue to look into that because we really need to reverse kind of a bureaucratic formula that was put out by the previous administration that essentially, created a roadblock to streetcars systems being considered under that program.
SEC. LAHOOD: Well, sir, let me just say this. I feel privileged to be a part of a transformational administration and I feel privileged because I do think this president wants to transform transportation. And we are going to look -- we are looking very carefully at your program. I'm very aware of it.
I've had at least three conversations in his office with Earl Blumenauer.
And I was just in Peter DeFazio's office, a week ago. I'd be happy to come to your office. I'm sure I'll hear the same thing. But the point is sir that we are very interested in what you are doing in Portland. And we are very open-minded about it.
And I think you will be very pleased to hear with -- what we are going to be able to do in working with you to make some of the things that you all have been planning and working on, and implementing further reality, for really making Portland and other places in Oregon really livable communities.
You are way -- you all are way ahead of the curve on this and I've sort of, adapted Earl's livable communities as something that we want to work with the Congress on and really make a part of the authorization of a transportation bill. I think we have to do it for the people for what the chairman said, about what's going on in his state, and the connection of communities, and people being able to get out of their cars and riding buses, or riding bikes, or however you want to express it.
But I think you'll be pleased that we'll be working with you and we -- there is a lot of -- a lot more open minds as a result of the leadership that we have received from the While House and our ability really, to look at this in a very productive way, I think.
SEN. MERKLEY: Mr. Secretary, I'm absolutely thrilled to hear your comments and as you can tell by the enthusiasm of our Congressman that you have spoken with from both Northern Oregon and Southern Oregon we are very united in the success of this. And -- but we do look forward to -- instead of just inviting you to our offices, to actually put you out on one of those streetcars in Oregon, and we --
SEC. LAHOOD: I'll be there.
SEN. MERKLEY: Thank you so much. The second piece I wanted to address is really to echo Senator Dodd's comments about the efforts to tackle some of the -- to streamline some of the bureaucratic processes, and I deeply appreciate your reference to the TIGER team that you've put together.
We have found it much more difficult with transit issues than with surface transportation or highway issues. And part of it is the need to complete each and every phase before you can move on to the next phase.
So for example, we are working on an extension of our light rail system to Milwaukee. And we are trapped in early, preliminary, engineering, because until we get that box checked we can't proceed to the next stage. And we would love to work with your folks to figure out how we can emulate more expeditious procedures in making transit happen. Because it's just such a series of obstacles that make projects take far longer than they would ever need to.
And so I think you've really, already, addressed this as a question. I certainly invite any additional comments. But I wanted to thank you for your TIGER team and say how important this is to the success of building transit.
SEC. LAHOOD: We'll look at it. I think, the fact that the chairman, the ranking member, Senator Bennett, and now, you, sir, have raised this issue. We really need to deal with this at the department.
I think we have the ability to do it. We should not let the bureaucracy get in the way of creative, innovative ideas being carried out in as expeditious a way as possible. And I get the point here.
I mean, the value of this hearing today is that all of you have expressed the idea that it takes too long. And you know, my point is we've got to do things by the book. But we have proven that we can do them by the book very quickly, and get an enormous amount of money out the door by the kind of the coordination that the TIGER team has allowed us to do.
And so I take all of your points on this, very well made. And I'll be committed to trying to figure out ways in our Department to do things right, but to get them done quicker.
SEN. MERKLEY: Your approach is refreshing and energizing, and thank you very much.
SEC. LAHOOD: Thank you sir.
SEN. DODD: Thank you very much. Senator Bennet.
SEN. BENNET: Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Secretary, first of all, happy to have you stop in Denver on your way out of Portland or on the way back. And so let me know when it's going to be. I want to just continue in this vein and say thank you to you and to the president for keeping up your end of the bargain with respect to the recovery act.
We in Colorado are -- have received a $100 million in transit money as part of that, and your team made that happen in an expeditious way, and we really appreciate it and our constituents notice this. I mean, it is so frustrating to people that things in Washington seem to take forever and decisions never get made.
And they never -- it takes so long to see the benefits come back to them and I think the administration really, has done a real service here by holding up its end of the bargain. And my hope is that will continue to do that over the next 18 months or so.
Transparency is incredibly important, accountability is incredibly important in making sure that the money is getting spent where we said it would be spent, is the most important thing. But I would say the second most important thing is that we act expeditiously.
So I just want to join my colleagues in urging you to -- as you said, you will, to do that and in that vein, since you have been on this side of the table, I'd love to hear your thoughts about how we move this authorization process along, as you know SAFETEA-LU was enacted 22 months after TEA-21 had expired. How do we avoid doing that again and how do we move this forward as best as we can?
SEC. LAHOOD: Well, I'm not an independent operator anymore. So I didn't get elected or anything last November. Let me just say on the transparency issue first. We have a -- there is a website that we put information into every day. It's called recovery.gov. It's at OMB, but it's also something that the White House has taken a great deal of pride in.
Any taxpayer right now can access information about where the money is being spent from the recovery. How many dollars have gone out the door? What states have gotten it, and ultimately, what projects are funded and ultimately -- not yet, but ultimately how many people are put to work. We are all very proud of that, and that came from the very top. That's the president. Every time the president has given a speech or when I've been with the vice president, recovery.gov is one of the things that is emphasized.
We want taxpayers to know this is an enormous amount of money and we believe it's going to put an enormous number of people to work in good paying jobs this spring, summer, and fall. I believe that. And -- but we want total transparency. We want hard-working taxpayers to know their money is being spent correctly.
With respect to your question about how you get a bill passed, I think, for starters you're going to have an administration, including myself, which I said I'm privileged to be a part of this team that's going to work very closely with Congress on getting a bill as quickly as you all can get one.
We're going to be full partners with you in all of this. And that will be a pretty good start. I know Chairman Oberstar in the House has a very ambitious schedule to get a bill passed.
Hopefully, I mean, he claims, before the end of the fiscal year, I don't want to speak for him, but I've had about four or five meetings with him, and I know this is his number one goal.
It will be up to all of you over here to work as expeditiously as you can, but you're going to have a real partnership with this administration and this department to get this done, because we have to have a good follow-on to the recovery plan. If we're really going to have sustainability and have the ability to keep these people working beyond the 18 months, we need to have an authorization bill that takes us beyond the 18 months into the next five years. And we're going to work with you on that.
SEN. BENNET: Well, I appreciate that.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. DODD: Thank you very much.
We've been joined by Senator Kohl coming in. Senator, welcome this morning and we've got the secretary with us a bit here. I don't know if you have any comments.
SEN. HERB KOHL (D-WI): Yes, I have. Thank you very much, Mr. LaHood.
Mass use of federal transit, which the administration proposed changing the rules regarding public transportation -- (off mike) -- in particular the -- (off mike) -- consequences for both the students in a transit system serving these communities. Yesterday, I heard in Wisconsin from systems about the heavy toll that this proposed change would take on their agencies and the families they serve.
Transit agencies, school boards, and principals have commented on how this change is a break with over 30 years of policy. My question is, will the FTA reverse this proposed rule? And without changing the rule is it your understanding that transit agencies could well be subject to losses that terminate the services they currently offer on behalf of students. Are you familiar with this -- with the --
SEC. LAHOOD: Yes, sir, Senator Kohl, I was briefed on this, and I really wasn't aware of it until I prepared for this hearing. And your staff was good enough to work with us and I know about this, and I -- what I would say to you, sir, is that we're evaluating -- the docket is closed on this and we're evaluating all the comments. And we know that this is a very serious problem and I just want you to know that we're going to look at the comments and we're in the process of really -- how best to decide to move forward.
But I know it's a real serious issue, not only in your state, but in other states too. And we recognize that now and we appreciate the fact that you've brought this to our attention, and I want you to know that we're going to look at it very carefully and review it very carefully.
I don't want to say something here today that, you know, I can't really stand by, but I want you to know that we're taking this very seriously. We know it's a real, serious concern in Wisconsin and other states and we'll look at it very carefully.
SEN. KOHL: Now, the rule as I understand it, what is not yet been implemented, the new rule.
SEC. LAHOOD: That's right.
SEN. KOHL: So it does give you the chance to review it to be sure it does, that our transit -- that our buses really serves the purpose in picking up --
SEC. LAHOOD: That's correct.
SEN. KOHL: Otherwise, what's the point?
SEC. LAHOOD: That's correct.
SEN. KOHL: And right now as I understand it the buses will maybe go here and there, and to the other place to be sure that they can accommodate students in terms of picking them up and dropping them off in the afternoon. And if we say, well, that's not something we do any more, I don't understand what the purpose would be in implementing that kind of a rule. At least, on the surface as we look at it and think about it in our discussion today, it seems to be -- not to be the intent of what we're trying to do, isn't that true?
SEC. LAHOOD: It is, and I -- again as I said earlier to a couple of other senators, I think the value of my service in this position is I have been a member of Congress for 14 years, and I think -- I would like to think I bring a little level of commonsense here and --
SEN. KOHL: Right.
SEC. LAHOOD: -- I take your point, Senator.
SEN. KOHL: I do appreciate that, Mr. Secretary.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. DODD: Thank you very much, Senator.
Well, Mr. Secretary, we thank -- I don't know if my colleagues have any additional questions they want to raise, and maybe we'll leave the record open for a day or two here to submit some too in writing, but I think all of us appreciate very much your knowledge of these issues.
The fact that you have served on this side of the desk, gives us some confidence that you understand the perspective, obviously, of those of us representing our respective states, and the needs and demands out there. I'm particularly heartened that you responded favorably to the issue of the bias that occurs bureaucratically between modes of transportation, which really should not be the case at all.
That we ought to be in a position where we allow communities to decide what they think is in their best interest, that -- particularly, when you talk about regional and national issues as well, that we have a chance to work that out. So we don't tilt this conversation in such a way that it makes it difficult to even talk optimistically about a transit process here that could be far more vital and vibrant than it presently is.
And I appreciate as well your support, at least, generally for the notion of examining what creative ideas and how we end up financing and funding a lot of these needs, because clearly, in the absence of that, this is nothing more than a lot of talk. If you don't have the resources to do it then you can't do much at all and obviously these are hard times.
But these hard times are forcing us to think more creatively and differently, and that's not a bad thing. Obviously, we trade the hard times for the alternative, but we are in the hard times, whether we like it or not at this point, and none of us like it. And so we need to be talking about ways in which we could be imaginative in moving forward.
So very excited about your presence and the sustainable development issue is one that clearly, I'm going to pursue and would like your thoughts on that as well as how we bring together respected agencies to think holistically about this. The more we do that I think the better off we're really going to be, where we get various agencies and constituencies thinking in a common direction on these issues.
And transit is the one issue in many ways that links all of these other issues together, the housing issue, the energy issue, the environmental issue, as well as obviously, moving people. And it seems to me -- it's the linchpin that brings us to a point here.
We get that level of cooperation we've been talking about for many, many years, but now we are in a wonderful position, I think, to move forward with it and you can place such a pivotal role in that debate and discussion as we go forward. So I thank you very much for --
SEC. LAHOOD: Mr. Chairman, can I just say that I -- I'm going to take your suggestion. I'm going to talk to the administration about your letter. I think, it's -- I think your letter is well stated, and signed by other senators, and so I am going to speak to them about that and we'll see what happens.
SEN. DODD: Thanks very much, Mr. Secretary.
God there (ph) be with us. Now, we'll get to our second panel. As the Secretary moves along, and I'm going to ask our colleague from Colorado if he would like to introduce the mayor.
SEN. BENNET: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I would like to introduce the mayor, John Hickenlooper; we're very fortunate to have him here today. I think that he is one of the most visionary leaders in the country right now. Time magazine named him one of the top five mayors in the United States.
He got his education at Wesleyan University in your home state, where he began his entrepreneurial approach to life by creating among other things, a community health center that still -- in existence still serving the people of Middletown, Connecticut.
He was a small business owner in Colorado that got federal up with what he described then, "as the fundamental nonsense of government." Ran for mayor, and brought an entirely new approach to governing in Colorado that has now gone beyond just the city room, it's in Denver, but has reached from one end of the state to the other.
The leadership on transit that he has shown with his colleague mayors and commissioners around the city has really become a model for regional cooperation, as you were just saying over lots of other things like water, natural resources, I hope some day, education. And all that is a consequence of the discussions around transit and what it means for a quality of life.
He has also led an -- a fight against homelessness in Denver that's a model for the rest of the country. It's been adopted in many other cities. So I believe that as you were saying, and I want to applaud your letter on sustainability, that the issues that attach themselves to transit are so important that they could actually change the political conversation in this country and give us the chance to solve some of the problems that we haven't addressed for a very long time. And Mayor Hickenlooper's brand of politics and brand of leadership is a model for all of us as we begin those conversations, so --
SEN. DODD: Well, thank you very much, Senator, and Mayor, we welcome you. As I've got to know the mayor as well over the years, and well, we brag about your Connecticut connections.
And I have visited on more occasions than I can even begin to count, the Community Health Center, in Middletown, Connecticut, that you helped start. In fact, I was at the -- we now have several of this. I went to Norwalk the other day, and I am going to be in Torrington, in Middletown, and the Willimantic, but this --
The Community Health Center in Middletown is just a model of service to the community that is remarkable and so even though you've gone back home to Colorado, you left a lasting impression and mark in the small State of Connecticut. So we thank you for that, Mayor.
Let me introduce the person sitting to your left, Mr. Joseph Marie, who is the commissioner of Connecticut's Department of Transportation, and recently named chair of the Standing Committee for Public Transportation for American -- the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
Twenty-two years of transit industry experience, Mr. Marie, served in many executive positions such as the director of operations and maintenance for Metro in Phoenix, Arizona. We welcome you before the committee, doing a great job in our state, and we're honored to have you with us today. And thank you for the work that you've been making.
And finally, again -- and Senator Reed has already -- and maybe wants to add some additional thoughts, but -- I had a wonderful conversation yesterday with Bev Scott and gotten to understand how much a role -- how important she is and how knowledgeable she is about all of these issues.
Jack, you want to add any additional thoughts?
SEN. REED: Beverly was an extraordinary leader of Rhode Island Public Transit Authority and so good that she was lured away by Atlanta, but we're hoping that she returns home some day. And she is a great professional and look forward to her comments, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. DODD: Well, I should point out she is the general manager and chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, referred to as MARTA. And she is the chairperson of the American Public Transportation Association, APTA, which I had the pleasure of addressing the other day, and as their national organization met in this city; and as Jack pointed out has worked in Rhode Island, also New Jersey, New York, a wonderful broad experience in these areas. So we thank you, Bev, very much for being with us today.
And we'll begin in the order we've introduced you. I guess, John, welcome, and anxious to hear your thoughts.
MAYOR HICKENLOOPER: Thank you very much, Chairman Dodd, Ranking Member Shelby, and --
SEN. DODD: I'm sorry. I did.
MAYOR HICKENLOOPER: I really don't know with this big city stuff. I don't get on to announce (ph) like that.
Thank you very much, Chairman Dodd and Ranking Member Shelby, members of the committee.
Senator Bennet, I especially appreciate the kind introduction. You will all see, as I did, that his unfailing good judgment and always good humor makes him a pleasure to have in any working group.
I appreciate your inviting me to talk today about "Sustainable Transportation Solutions: Investing in Transit to Meet 21st Century Needs." We appreciate all of your hard work, especially the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, which has gone a long way to helping build our foundations.
I also want to recognize and thank Secretary LaHood. As long as I've been working on transportation, it's just refreshing to have his positive energy and his collaborative spirit and see that we are very optimistic.
This nation cannot deal with the energy and climate challenges without addressing transportation -- this transportation sector head on. Oil independence starts with giving people good alternatives. This means, going forward, all federally assisted transportation investments must address energy and climate concerns in addition to mobility. And do this through needed shifts and reforms in federal policies and programs.
The foremost recommendation among the long list of transportation authorization policy positions that the U.S. Conference of Mayors adopted in June was a call for a metropolitan mobility program that really focused on not just congestion relief, but economic development, sustainability, and environmental matters.
These must emphasize -- all these efforts must emphasize sustainable transportation investments led by increased investment in public transit and intercity passenger rail. To accelerate the achievements of more sustainable transportation solutions, federal policy must increasingly empower local elected officials, especially, in the metropolitan areas, to make the decisions on how federal transportation resources can be best investments -- can be best invested, and to provide incentives for a collaborative process in our metropolitan regions.
As Mayor of Denver, and as chair of the transportation committee of the U.S. conference of mayors, my own perspective on transportation, the transportation authorization bill is driven by our experience in collaboration across the metropolitan region to build our FasTracks transit project.
Twenty-five years ago, a young lawyer challenged the people of Denver to imagine a great city. Federico Pena went on to become secretary of transportation for four years under Clinton, and his challenge was taken to heart. Metro Denver has been nationally recognized for our capacity to plan and work collaboratively across potentially balkanized local jurisdictions.
When we passed FasTracks in 2004, all 32 mayors, Republicans and Democrats, large cities and small towns, unanimously supported a four- tenths of a cent sales tax increase on our regional area, which as Senator Bennet noted, was roughly the size of Connecticut.
From our FasTracks transit project to our regional economic development initiatives to our cultural facilities tax districts, all of which involve and benefit the localities within the eight Metro Denver counties, this collaborative ability continues to grow. Beyond, of our collaboration, FasTracks represents the possibility for successful transit not just in the more dense and older cities, but across the American West.
Especially, this moment in history, when we have factories and other brownfield sites sitting empty, we have the opportunity to transform how we grow, how we think about economic development. And we can change zoning so that we get 25 and 30 block areas around transit stops with denser zoning where we have six and eight story buildings permitted that encourage retail and housing and various forms of mixed use, all in the same place.
As has been the case in other cities that have embarked on ambitious transit projects, FasTracks has tremendous potential for positive change in all these areas from congestion reduction, to energy savings, to economic development. Most importantly, in these difficult economic times, there holds the possibility for sustainable economic development through job creation.
Transit has been an economic development tool for Denver and for the entire region. We see close to TODs, to the Transit Oriented Developments, home values are higher. Closer to TODs, the rate of home foreclosures appears to be lower.
Choices are very important. When gas prices rise, people especially need alternatives. When the gas rose above $4 a gallon, lower and middleclass Americans were forced to not pay mortgages in credit cards.
I'm not saying that this caused the economic collapse, but certainly if you follow the spike in gasoline prices and the level of foreclosures of those people on the margin, there is an alarmingly close correlation. Denver Union Station or I should go back -- having a well planned accessible efficient transit system demonstrates the city's focus on its economic future.
It's crucial to see its ability to attract visitors and conventions. In fact, our transit planning, I think was a key to Denver successfully hosting the DNC last summer, and Senator Bennett would say, I think, Salt Lake City experienced a similar success in hosting the Olympics with their transit.
Denver Union Station, which has become an icon of Denver's transportation history is being redeveloped as a modern, multimodal transit hub making it easier for people to access goods and services and creating hundreds of jobs, both short-term in construction and long-term in new retail developments that will be included.
TODs are one of the key priorities because they create economic vitality and improve quality of life and public safety. Because of their density and mixed uses, TODs are sustainable communities. Transit can also drive appropriate growth and spur a sustainable economic development and land use.
We deeply appreciate that what Congress did in SAFETEA, which changed New Starts criteria by raising assessment of economic development and land use impact analysis to top priorities alongside the cost-benefit analysis. Transit can be a very a powerful tool in orienting development.
When the New York City subway system was first constructed, if you go back and look at the history, they built lines out into the cow pastures in Brooklyn and the growth followed. We envision the same 20-to 25-year return on investment by expanding our lines from Denver to Boulder and Longmont.
However, the problem has been, in the previous administration, in implementation by DOT, not Congress, which failed to take in some of these factors, such as economic development and other forms of assessment, and instead focused on simply dividing the number of current riders by the cost per mile. The analysis doesn't even adequately take into account future population changes and out-year ridership.
As I understand it, if you plan to build those transit stations in a place where you know growth is coming, the evaluation still forecasts zero ridership. I understand that economic benefit and land use are difficult to measure, but there clearly are ways to do it, and it is critical that we do so.
It is equally critical that this forward-thinking investment as well as environmental impact be considered by DOT now and be reasserted in any reauthorization. Thank you.
SEN. DODD: Thank you very much.
MR. MARIE: Good morning, Senator Dodd, Ranking Member Shelby, and members of the committee.
I'm pleased to be here today to represent the State of Connecticut as well as AASHTO Standing Committee on Public Transportation. I spent my entire career in the field of public transportation, although I must admit to you today that my journey in the business started many years before my career earning money.
One day, at a young age about 10 or 11, I boarded a Route 430 bus to the Malden Center Subway Station in Boston. I remember the freedom and the exhilaration that this gave me. It had nothing to do with the technology or the ride, it felt me -- I felt mobile and the world around me was not so small and constrained anymore.
I felt alive and rich with ideas. It's not the first time I had taken the train. In fact, I had taken it many times as a boy to Fenway Park. At one point, I thought Fenway, who was indeed the last stop on earth.
Within two years, I knew every stop of the MBTA system. Taking the buses, trains, and subways was my connection to the outside world. It made me mobile, connecting me to a larger place and opened my eyes.
About a decade later, and after a brief tenure working here in Congress, I started my career as a management intern with the very same MBTA. Over the last 24 years, my journey in the field of public transportation has taken me to virtually every corner of the earth. I have worked on, studied, and written about transportation systems all over the world.
And while the nation as a whole has made tremendous progress in recent years, particularly, in the development of light rail and commuter rail systems, we lag significantly behind our counterparts in investment levels in Europe and Asia. In a few minutes, I want to share with you some facts and figures that should give you a sense of the current state of the business, but I first want to share with -- some experiences of some of the successors around the nation. I think these stories will demonstrate that the commitment of taxpayer money has been put to good use.
In 2004, I had the pleasure to oversee the startup and testing of the Hiawatha Light Rail Transit system, Minneapolis, Minnesota, as assistant general manager of operations. The success of this line is undisputed. Originally expected to carry 19,000 passengers per day, the line carries more than double that today.
Plans are underway to build a commuter rail line to the north and a light rail line to St. Paul, which will provide much needed relief to the congested I-94 corridor. These are impressive statistics and developments, but more impressive to me was the reaction of people who attended Minnesota Vikings and Twins games along the corridor.
I remember working the first games after the rail line opened and watching thousands of thousands of passengers streaming from packed trains with smiles on their faces. Even the Green Bay Packers seemed to enjoy it. These customers had choices. They could have easily driven their automobiles to the game, but they chose the train instead.
Having a train system to serve downtown Minneapolis has improved the quality of life, sustainability, and livability of the urban core. Private developments, including retail and housing, have sprung up around the stations. There was a time when many of our cities and their respective downtowns were places to avoid.
Today and recently, there is a movement back to our urban cores. In the late 19th century, our train centers were places where people converge. Buses and trolley lines provided seamless connections to intercity trains. Today, our topic is investing in the transit to meet 21st century challenges, where we can look at history and find a lot of solutions to what comes in front of us in the future.
Until very recently, I served as director of operations and maintenance for Metro in Phoenix, Arizona. I oversaw the startup of a rail system which was linked to cities of Mesa, Tempe, and Phoenix. Although this system opened only a few months ago, ridership is exceeding expectations.
Incredibly, ridership on Saturdays is actually higher than weekday averages, which should tell you something about choices. People will come to public transit if it works. About a year ago, I participated in the inaugural test transit from Phoenix to Tempe where we made a brief stop at Sun Devil Stadium. I had a chance to meet with a number of members of the senior community who were really looking forward to getting back on trolleys, as they call them, from their youth back in Pittsburg.
This was an incredible investment for this city. It was a $1.2 billion investment and also for the federal government. The good news is that investment attracted more than four times that in private investment and the line works very well today.
Successful examples of integrating modern rail solutions into urban centers can be found all over the United States. Since 1980 -- 1918, new light rail systems have opened in the United States with the following being only a partial list. Houston, Dallas, Charlotte, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, St. Louis, San Diego, Portland, Denver. Seattle, Washington, will join the club later this year, and in a few years Norfolk, Virginia, will see a light rail system open.
In addition, new commuter and regional lines have opened in places like San Jose, Albuquerque, Nashville, and Fort Worth. The impacts to the overall livability that the systems have had on their communities have been impressive. The economic development, transit oriented development, smart growth initiatives that have been spurred by these New Starts has been dramatic.
At home in Connecticut, I oversee a rather unique do at DOT. We are a fully multimodal transportation organization responsible for the state's commuter rail system, bus operations, ferry services, ports, highways, bridges, as well as all public airports, including Bradley International Airport.
In Connecticut, our Governor Jodi Rell has spearheaded one of the largest public transportation investments in the state's history. Why? And as Senator Dodd pointed out, ridership on our rail lines is exploding in double-digit fashion.
Together with our friends in Massachusetts, we're hoping to bring first-class rail service to the Connecticut River Valley between Springfield, Massachusetts and New Haven, Connecticut. We have an ongoing dialogue with Amtrak and are optimistic that we can form a partnership to obtain the necessary investment to bring this key intercity rail service to reality.
This project is about economic development, jobs, and regional solutions. Around the nation, demand for public service is growing steadily. In 2008, ridership grew in every mode of public transportation, and they are now, as you indicated earlier up to levels we haven't seen in 50 years. Well, some may say ridership is a result of increased gas prices. It does not explain the fact that ridership continued to grow even after gas prices dropped later this year -- late last year.
Before closing my comments I wanted -- I would be remiss if I failed to mention our appreciation for the recently enacted American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. You have thrown us an important lifeline during a turbulent time. A month ago, commissioners from DOTs around the country met with Secretary LaHood and we promised him to put the money to good use and quickly. We will and we thank you.
I want to let you know that I took Amtrak's Acela down to see you today. Like the four other trips that I have taken on the Acela over recent months, I had a chance to look out the windows at our cities, while we have made some great strides in creating densities in these urban cores, we can and must do better.
In the months ahead, you will be confronted with important decisions related to reauthorization of the new surface transportation bill. You will hear from many about how much is needed and why. I will leave you with something, which I believe you already know: Preserving, renewing, and reinvesting in our nation's infrastructure is absolutely and inextricably linked to the economic well-being of our nation. Thank you.
SEN. DODD: Thank you very much, Mr. Marie.
And Ms. Scott, thank you very much for being with us today Doctor, and we appreciate your tremendous efforts and work over the years.
MS. SCOTT: Thank you. Chairman Dodd, Ranking Member Shelby, always my Senator Jack Reed, and all members of the committee, it is an honor for me to have the opportunity to appear before you in my capacity as chair of the American Public Transportation Association and general manager of MARTA in Atlanta.
Let me start by thanking you and all the members of the committee for your national leadership and focus in this absolutely crucial area. I have personally been privileged to work in the industry for over 30 years serving diverse communities across the United States. And I can honestly say that regardless of the size of community, how effectively we move people, goods, and services, is key to economic competitiveness and overall quality of life.
It's just that basic, and a fundamental that our country and public has understood, and invested in from our earliest days. My written testimony on behalf of the American Public Transportation Association has been submitted and I want to focus my personal comments on a few key things.
First and foremost, we desperately need a significantly greater investment in all aspects of our nation's public transportation infrastructure. At the same time, these are very changing and different times that will require bold leadership and transformational thinking to help us make the kind of breakthroughs necessary to help us get unstuck.
We definitely agree with you that this next transportation bill will not be business as usual. Almost heretically, I'll say that while there has been some movement, for the most part we are still largely suited up in 20th century armor for a 21st century world from how we fund public transportation, to how we organize public transportation, to how we manage public transportation and deliver all of the various programs.
Still much too siloed, fragmented, and protective of turf, all of us typically much more comfortable with the focus at the tactical level of needs and funding formulas than the more visionary and strategic level of national goals, more neutral resource allocation, outcomes, performance matrix, and standards.
This past year, APTA developed a strong, bold vision for the future TransitVision 2050. In 2050, America's energy efficient multimodal, environmentally sustainable transportation system, powers the greatest nation on earth.
Getting from here to there will definitely require a significant shift in thinking, planning, funding, organizing, managing, and a broader range of tools, both alternative business models, public- private partnerships, funding strategies, including tolls, usage fees, a national infrastructure bank, and innovative project delivery methods like design-build-operate-maintain approaches where it makes sense.
Senators, the work that this committee does to ask and address the big hard questions and break through the comfort zone of business as usual would be invaluable and helping to move America forward during these admittedly challenging times. The second thing, I would like to emphasize is somewhat related to the first. And that is the importance of connecting the dots.
Chairman Dodd, your idea about a sustainability office and the need to insist upon serious communication policy and program coordination between transportation, housing, energy, and environmental officials, as well as their health and human services and Labor Department counterparts would be a masterstroke. All of these areas are interconnected and have profound impacts on the daily lives of people and the viability of communities across America, regardless of size or geography.
Today, there is very little that consciously connects policy development, resource allocation and/or program development, and delivery between these key departments at the national level. At a minimum, some type of coordinating councils at a national and regional level would be extremely beneficial anchored by a clear national vision once again focused on outcomes and actionable achievement strategies, smart public investments that produce real results.
My final observations are a request that you help ensure that we also give priority attention to the people aspects of our industry as we rebuild, retool, and expand our physical infrastructure to move America forward. Please, let us not forget the hundreds of thousands, millions of employees and workers across the full breadth of our national transportation industry. In order to be the best, our folks must have the tools, education, and training they need to excel.
Simply, our human capital also requires an investment, and it is one that will payoff in tremendous dividends. Over the last several years, at the national, state, and local levels, public transit management and labor have increasingly partnered together to develop and pilot a number of very key workforce development and training initiatives focused on skills development in critical areas like bus maintenance, complex rail signal and train control systems, escalator and elevator maintenance.
Similar to the air traffic control or maintenance challenges in aviation, we face the same kinds of impacts in surface transportation. Finally, we require national attention and action on the critical need for some assistance with operations and maintenance funding, particularly during this unprecedented economic downturn.
I don't have to tell you that during the very time that people across the country are flocking to public transit at an all-time high, transit systems across the country are struggling with the negative impacts of our sagging economy and an alarming numbers are having to cut service and sharply increase fares and fees.
The contradiction simply doesn't make sense. Recently, I heard it said that it is not logical to operate vehicles forever without any purchases of new equipment and I agree. And it is equally illogical to spend money on vehicles and not use them. Somewhere between these two poles we must find the balance that makes good common sense particularly during these unquestionably atypical times.
In summary, we thank you very much for actively soliciting our input as you move forward on this next transportation authorization. We urge this Congress to authorize a federal transit program with a six-year investment level of at least $123 billion.
The next program will absolutely require a wide range of financing options. But for the immediate future we feel strongly that the base program must restore and increase the purchasing power of the federal motor fuels user tax while we concurrently move with the true sense of urgency to develop and implement a national transportation future funding model that is both economically and environmentally sustainable.
We also need to have funding predictability both for our agencies and our private sector partners. We also believe that we need to do everything that we can to simplify, coordinate, existing programs within and across the departments and speed project delivery.
Finally, I can only say again that there are many public transit systems across our country that are unfortunately on life support, and I just have to say in the strongest of terms, a plea, that your immediate assistance in that regard would be most humbly appreciated.
So thank you very much for the opportunity.
SEN. DODD: Thank you very, very much, and again, we thank all three of you for your participation and your testimony here this morning.
Let me, again, just briefly Mister -- Commissioner Marie, in your testimony you cited your organization's goal of doubling transit ridership over the next 20 years. Obviously that may be happening whether you wanted to do it or not. This is essential if we're going to address traffic congestion, energy, climate change, as well.
Based on your previous experience in the public transit industry, and your current experience in our home state of Connecticut, please share some suggestions as to how we in Washington can help state-local transportation leaders like yourself achieve this goal.
Obviously Mayor Hickenlooper there, and Miss -- Dr. Scott, I'd like to hear your thoughts as well.
MR. MARIE: Yes, Senator Dodd that's a good question. I can tell you that our I-95 corridor is completely congested. We do not have the opportunity to expand the highway network, particularly in the south-western part of the state, Fairfield County, which is important to the overall economic health of not only Connecticut, but certainly the region and the country as well.
In order for us to really -- to do something about that we have to invest in the infrastructure along that corridor -- the train line along that corridor. We have an older antiquated signaling system.
We're constantly investing in modernizing our overhead wire catenary system, which provides the energy for the trains in order to improve the overall throughput and capacity, we're going to have to continue to modernize that so that we can track the ridership and sustain the ridership on the line.
At the end of the day, it's going to come down to investment in new types of transit services. We view the potential service between Springfield and New Haven as the way for us to help out with some of the I-91, I-95 bottleneck in New Haven.
And we're doing our part at the state level as much as we can. We're investing about $700 million in new trains, right now which are going to start being delivered later on this year. We're also investing a billion dollars in a new rail yard, so we're making a fairly sizeable state investment, but it's really putting a considerable damper on our financial state within Connecticut.
We're doing the best we can, but we're going to need some help with not only, sort of, modernizing that corridor, which also serves, you know, Amtrak by the way. We own 47 miles that the Amtrak high speed service runs on. So we share those tracks and work together to coordinate that.
But we're going to have grow up our system, expand our bus fleet. We're going to have to start service between Springfield and New Haven in order to achieve our goals of doubling ridership.
SEN. DODD: Pretty good.
Mayor, do you have any thoughts on this question?
MAYOR HICKENLOOPER: Absolutely, I mean there are several different approaches to tackling it as our mutual friend Mark Maselli (ph) once -- oh, sorry.
As our mutual old friend Mark Maselli once told me, the more money you save, the more you can -- the more people you can help.
And so part of this is making sure that we allocate our resources correctly and we are as frugal and have enough resources so we can buy additional trains and rolling stock when we need it.
Certainly in our situation, FasTracks becomes that solution by which, again by, as cost-effectively as possible, rolling out a transit system and making sure that the benefit in terms of congestion is where the congestions are worse. And that is the crucial element in terms of gaining the regional collaboration, is to be able to show people at all parts of the metro area who are traveling across corners, to every corner of the metro area that they all benefit by getting people off the roads.
And I think that part of it we can also provide more incentives making sure that people have additional opportunities to have an easier trip. We're going to roll out this summer a bike-sharing program that we tried during the convention. We'll have 500 bikes this June, and another 500 bikes for a total of a thousand, that will be located close to or at each bus stop or transit stop, like rail stop, and then have other stations where they can lock this bike up.
They can swipe their credit card and get it, and then swipe the credit card to lock it at their places -- the appointment centers or places of work. So that taking transit becomes suddenly much more -- much easier and more available.
SEN. DODD: Dr. Scott.
MS. SCOTT: I think that the two things that you can really do at the national level to help us, that the state and local level are; one, to really level the playing field in terms of the transportation decision making, in terms of funding. That will help to do more to rationalize what we wind up doing at the state and local level, than I think just about anything that you could do. The other is to really once again help us to focus in terms of outcomes and performance metrics.
And so if we really wind up having a situation where one is making decisions and you have a level playing field in terms of funding, that will in and of itself help to make there be much more rational decisions that wind up taking place at the state and local level.
SEN. DODD: There have been issues raised, the -- what we call metropolitan mobility, I guess is what some have called it, that is developing a mode-neutral metropolitan focus program that could directly fund metropolitan regions to advance sustainable transportation initiatives and address regional congestion issues.
One of the concerns that we hear from those who are critical of that approach is the ability of regional governments to administer significant new funding. I wonder Mayor Hickenlooper, I'd begin with you -- I welcome a response from the entire panel, but give me your thoughts on this issue, as well as how we might, as one of the structured program focused on metropolitan mobility.
MAYOR HICKENLOOPER: Well, I think the efficiency in regional approaches to the implementation of these plans is clear. Certainly, depending on the regional area you're talking about, there might have to be some ramping up, there might need to be a evolution of how their decision making takes place so that they can accommodate those larger sums of dollars.
But I think that the key here is that the efficiencies are so significant that we've got to have that as the ultimate goal that we've got to be looking at metropolitan areas, it's where the vast majority over 85 percent of our jobs are, where almost 90 percent of our gross domestic product takes place.
And to have them balkanized and having the decisions either being made in many places at small amounts, or being made sometimes with all due respect, on a state level, so that the decisions are made by a group that isn't the citizens that are directly affected, it hurts that efficiency.
And in Denver certainly we've been able to demonstrate that on a regional basis we can implement large scale projects at significant costs. FasTracks is a $6.9 billion project that's moving forward on time and if you take up the incredible increase in commodity costs, it's on budget.
SEN. DODD: Dr. Scott.
MS. SCOTT: I was just going to say that I think that and it's not to debate that surely there may wind up needing to be something that's added at the regional level in terms of some additional administrative support. But I think that the more that decision making and resources are pushed down to regional and local levels that are closest to the people who are closest to the issues and the need that they have, the better.
And the other thing that I think that we're finding increasingly is that there is a tremendous amount of innovation that's taking place across the country in different locales and regions of all different sizes. And so when I just kind of come back and look at all the resource that's out there in terms of mega regions and regions and how much they are responsible for really moving us that I think it would be once again a masterstroke to move it down.
MR. MARIE: I'd just like to add to Mayor's comment, Denver has and Salt Lake City as Portland have done a great job, I think, administering and managing rather complex, major public infrastructure investments. You know the Connecticut, it's kind of unique in that, you know, the State DOT manages most of the efforts, but we work very cooperatively in partnership with all of our regional NPOs and planning organizations and districts to make their programs come to fruition.
SEN. DODD: That's great.
SEN. SHELBY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mayor Hickenlooper, in your testimony you advocate eliminating the current funding structure in which transportation is designated for either highways or transit.
Some argue that a general part of money, without any required spending for transit, would result in a significant decrease in funding for transit projects. Could you explain your reasoning behind this proposal and why the concern regarding transit funding might be misplaced?
MAYOR HICKENLOOPER: And I'm not sure, I have to go back and look at my own testimony. I certainly didn't intend that. What we're trying to look at is by reducing the firewalls and separate these types of funding, what we're trying to look at is how can we be more mode-neutral in making our decisions on where to put financing.
Now, I didn't mean to imply that we should get rid of those firewalls, because obviously then from one administration to the next, or depending on where the emphasis is, things could change dramatically. I think as a country we need to begin to define the outcomes we want, and the expectations that we believe in, and what are our guiding principles, and then orient ourselves in that direction.
I guess what I'm talking about, perhaps a way to describe it is a greater permeability in terms of being able to move funding from one mode to another based on their outcomes.
SEN. SHELBY: Of course, there is a great body of members of the House and Senate here that are mainly instituted in the highway funding --
MAYOR HICKENLOOPER: I am aware of that.
SEN. SHELBY: -- opposed to transit funding and so forth.
MAYOR HICKENLOOPER: They let me know that on a frequent level.
SEN. SHELBY: Absolutely. New Starts, I touched on the issue of New Starts with the Secretary earlier.
But I want your input regarding additional changes that need to be made to the overall process to ensure that projects continue to receive a thorough evaluation and move in a more expeditious pace.
Mr. Marie, you want to comment on that?
MR. MARIE: That's a very good question, I think that if you look at some of the New Starts that have taken place in the United States in the last 20 years or so, some of them have taken a long time to build political consensus, to build in the first place that sometimes takes a considerable period of time.
But if you look at the case of the, like, rail line that was built in Minneapolis; that project actually was conceived in 1972, when then Attorney General Walter Mondale obtained the right-of-way in which the light rail line was ultimately built 32 years later.
I think that the Secretary has certainly -- it appears to be open to looking at ways to streamline the review process for New Starts. We're currently in a review process now for a busway that we're hoping to build between New Britain Connecticut and Hartford Connecticut. And it's been a long tenuous process and --
SEN. SHELBY: How would the busway work, sir? How would it work --
MR. MARIE: It's essentially a line that's a dedicated right-of- way for buses only. There have been successful examples of that in places like Pittsburg, and most recently in Los Angeles where you essentially build the dedicated right-of-way, or there might be an existing right-of-way.
In this case, there is some existing abandoned railroad right-of- way that we're going to build, you know, a bus network on that will be basically serving only buses.
SEN. SHELBY: And move a lot of people that way.
MR. MARIE: And move a lot of people quickly, so it's a good solution. I think at the end of the day, as we talk about these mode- neutral decisions, you know, the truth is, when we're going through the process of evaluating what works in any given corridor, the technology or the mode or the sleekness of the technology should not guide the modal choice.
The modal choice really should be driven by how many people you expect to move on your peak hour of service, and that generally results in a decision-making process that yields the technology of choice, whether it be busways, or light rail, or commuter rail, it just depends really on the corridor, and the individual needs of that corridor.
SEN. SHELBY: You just referenced that, but what about dedicated bus lanes in existing roads. You know we've heard a lot about that and that seems to be economical way to move people.
MR. MARIE: Yes, it certainly is a solution where you have a potential untapped capacity in our existing roadway network. Regrettably, in Connecticut, we don't have that luxury these days. Our roadways are so congested that really we're at the point where our only choices are investing and reinvesting in what we have than investing in new transit alternatives.
SEN. SHELBY: Dr. Scott, we heard from Secretary LaHood, a few minutes ago on the issue of ensuring a state of good repair, long- term, but I'm also interested in your perspective and that will be the organization you represent. What makes such seemingly basic efforts at maintenance a difficult if not impossible task and what can be done to address the backlog and ensure that it does not happen again?
MS. SCOTT: I'll say, well, number one, there is no question at all, but that we are absolutely focused in terms of fix it first and state of good repair. And so what I'll tell you is that, but we built up a significant amount of infrastructure in this country. And so we have to get about the business at all levels of significantly increasing the amount of investment that we have that is both at the national level, as well, as at regional and local levels.
I know -- I'm going through this right now at MARTA. When we started out 30 years ago we were brand new, and so it was all build, build. Now we sit up on top of ($)6.4 billion in infrastructure, and so it's a reeducation for our community of really understanding that it takes -- when you get to be middle-age it takes more money to wind up as the key is, when you get to be middle-aged it takes money to wind up having to make those kind of investments than when you have the luxury of being new.
And so, I think best is to continue with almost an education process for all of us that the state of good repair and fix it first is key.
MR. MARIE: Senator Shelby if I could add just real quickly.
SEN. SHELBY: Go ahead, Mr. Marie.
MR. MARIE: I think Bev hit it right on the mark. I think, fundamentally, regional transit authorities in large districts as well as states that run and maintain, you know, roadways and rail system and bus systems do a very effective job on the day-to-day lifecycle maintenance of our assets and our transit infrastructure.
Where we are all struggling right now is when we reach those midlife crises. When we reach that point where a train is 15 or 18 years old, and the useful life is 30, 35 years old. To get it to that useful life it requires some tender loving care. And it's the same with our roadway systems, so that's where we struggle is with those peaks and valleys of investment, in those sort of, you know, heavy maintenance midlife crisis periods for all of our assets.
SEN. SHELBY: Mayor, I'll ask you this question, first. Do you support requiring systems to achieve and maintain a state of good repair in order to receive additional federal funding for new or expanded systems? In other words, should you or shouldn't you keep in good repair what you have before you expand more and this exacerbates your problems, what should you do?
MAYOR HICKENLOOPER: This certainly -- and let me tie back Senator then to your previous question just to make sure that, because I did look up my testimony. What I was talking about was trying to get past the bias.
In terms of actually the different firewalls between highway and transit funding, I mean, I'm not and U.S. Conference of Mayors is not saying that we should take down that firewall, but just that there should be less bias and really a mode-neutral --
SEN. SHELBY: How do you describe that because we'd be very interested in what you mean by, what's bias -- you mean bias toward highways as opposed to transit or vice versa?
MAYOR HICKENLOOPER: Yeah, there are -- right now there are a number of processes that are followed and there are various incentives that create, many people believe, and you actually look at all the costs involved, more money should be going to transit, and especially, when you look at places where the land value to add an extra lane on a highway becomes incredibly expensive. That's what we are talking about, we were just, losing that bias.
In terms of maintaining the quality of your operating system, obviously I think that the -- that's one of the roles of the federal government is to make sure that we are not keeping up with the operating, maintenance, and the quality and the capacity of the infrastructure that we built.
Certainly, as you look around the country and you occasionally from time to time see a rec center or a library that a community builds and then doesn't have the money to operate; that's everyone's worst nightmare. And I think that you know it rarely happens, and I think --
SEN. SHELBY: How do we deal with it then?
MAYOR HICKENLOOPER: Well, what's happening right now is with the sudden weakness in the economy, the drop in sales tax, and most of the funding mechanism suddenly puts the operating systems of almost every transit systems in the country at peril.
Certainly, what you are all doing in terms of trying to solve the various issues around the financial crisis and being optimistic, we appreciate your, I think, the tone that you have all set here, its coming a long way towards turning this economic crisis around. And that's going to be the best thing we can do to help operate systems and maintain that equipment.
Generally, I don't think it was a significant problem in very many places. It's never been a problem in Denver in previous years.
SEN. SHELBY: So basically, do you support requiring systems including your own, to achieve and maintain a state of good repair in order to receive additional funding for, you know, additional --
MAYOR HICKENLOOPER: Yeah, obviously, the devil is in the details, and how one defines good repair, and what that exactly is defined as, could --
SEN. SHELBY: Well, basic maintenance.
MAYOR HICKENLOOPER: Basic maintenance, I completely agree with that. I don't think we should be all building things if we don't have a plan of exactly how we're going to finance that going forward.
SEN. SHELBY: Well, the best thing, do both.
MAYOR HICKENLOOPER: Right.
SEN. SHELBY: Mister --
MR. MARIE: Yeah, Senator Shelby, and one of the things that we all had to sign -- the governors had to sign in receipt of stimulus funding was to certify that we are indeed maintaining a level of effort on our existing infrastructure within our existing program for maintenance of our existing infrastructure.
SEN. SHELBY: Well, you certified, your staff or just the transportation people check it?
MR. MARIE: Yeah, well, we have a number of different checks and balances --
SEN. SHELBY: Okay.
MR. MARIE: -- to certify that, but I think that fundamentally, I think that you'd find that the industry would welcome the notion of ensuring that we maintain the current level of our investment and our maintenance efforts to ensure the safety and reliability of our systems. And tying that to receipt of money, I think is a good idea.
SEN. SHELBY: Scott, what's your view personally and then that of your association?
MS. SCOTT: My personal view is that a state of good repair is critical. I tell people all the time, the best marking that I do is the quality of the service that I put out the day before, and so that, but at the same time, sir, I think what we -- we've kind of gotten ourselves into a conundrum.
And Joe kind of talked to it earlier. There are three levels of pots in terms of how to keep it running. Day to day operation and maintenance, you got what is a system preservation state of good repair, and you got expansion.
And so what's happened is because we have so much that went into the growth mode when we were, everything was new that we've kind of got that part of it. Now, we have these -- this big bulge for us as a country and a region of this, now, all of this infrastructure that's now into these 30, 50, 70, 75, 90 years old, and there really has not been the funding there at all of the levels, to wind up really accommodating that.
So what's going to have to happen is that all of us together are going to have to be realistic about that and then figure out how we put our arms around it and come at it. And so I can't, I'm always going to say state of good repair because it's -- I'm never any better than what I am maintaining.
But at the same time we've had such tremendous growth we can't just say state of good repair completely and then say we're not going to do anything for expansion because that's not going to be practical, that's not going to be practical either.
SEN. SHELBY: On your own transit system in the Atlanta area, you said that you've gotten invested about $6 billion more or less. How far outside of the city of Atlanta does MARTA go now, is it extended into the other counties now?
MS. SCOTT: We're in Fulton and DeKalb County and we actually had the first time unanimous adoption of a 14-county concept three plan that occurred in December, and so I think you're going to begin to see some really -- additional expansion that's going to take place in the Atlanta region.
SEN. SHELBY: Thank you.
Thank you Mr. Chairman.
SEN. DODD: Thank you, Senator Shelby.
SEN. REED: Just very quickly to Dr. Scott and to Mr. Marie. The secretary talked about open-mindedness towards operating assistance to local transit authorities. I know, if you could both elaborate, and also the issue of ensuring maintenance efforts by localities, because the strong temptation in these times is to -- someone else's paying and then not to pay.
And thank you by the way Mr. Mayor for your extraordinary services in Denver. I enjoyed very much last August -- (laughs) -- for many reasons.
MS. SCOTT: I -- as I've said Senator, this whole area in terms of operations and maintenance support, certainly during this period of economic downturn is critical, but I would actually urge the committee on a personal level, to re-look at the whole issue of operations and maintenance support, period, as you move into authorization.
You know, about 10, 12 years ago there was a sea change that took place in terms of a large and medium-sized systems, any system over 200,000, no longer is able to be eligible for operating assistance. And I would just urge you to take another look at that during authorization.
But the most critical problem that we have right now is that particularly with the -- what has occurred in terms of the plummeting of local sales tax and revenues that there are systems that are just absolutely -- I'm just saying at-life support period.
And we were not successful in stimulus in terms of getting that point, as effectively getting that point across, and we just -- and we need your help. And so that -- I just can't say it any other way or any more strongly than all of the support that would be needed in that area.
SEN. REED: A quick follow-up before Mr. Marie responds to that; one other way I think would link operating assistance, would be to those systems that are environmentally advanced, electric or hybrid vehicles. So that essentially we're not investing in the old technology, but we are supporting operationally the new technology that might be both substantively and symbolically a better way to approach this than simply saying, well, give us the money to keep going. Mr. Marie, please.
MR. MARIE: You've hit on a very important point. There is -- we're getting hit with a double-whammy in some respects in our industry, where -- in an industry where our operating costs are growing.
MR. MARIE: And lot of that's related to health care; you know all of us are struggling with maintaining, you know, we certainly want our employees to have good health care. But that's increasing our direct operating costs.
And at the same time, we have infrastructure that is requiring of more tender loving care. So we have these big capital needs, colliding with big operating needs, and we also are going around the country.
And I think the secretary was talking about the big seven, you know, the Bostons, the New Yorks, the Philadelphias, that's up to Chicagos of the country that are, you know, incredibly important cities to the vitality of this nation. What they're going through right now is something what the London Underground went through in the early part of the '90s and up until the turn of the century.
London Underground was once a marvel for public transportation subway operations. And they got hit with that whammy of rising health care costs and infrastructure costs that they just could not keep up with. They are still trying to dig themselves out of that mess. So we have to take strides in this nation to make sure that our big cities can also -- can avoid that to the greatest extent possible and operating assistance would be helpful to them.
I think the more critical need for the big cities is that modernization of the existing infrastructure. Preservation of aging infrastructure is going to be the big challenge.
SEN. REED: Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. DODD: And I'd just point out -- (inaudible) -- because we put $100 million, Jack, I think in that -- in the stimulus package to deal with the energy efficiencies, and so forth. We hope that will be of some help, Mr. Marie, as I see Dr. Scott nodding her head affirmatively as well, and obviously beyond that, because that's money initially but you have to have a sustainable program as well. This gets you over a hump, but it doesn't deal with the long-term problems. Thank you, Senator very much.
SEN. BENNET: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mayor, I just wanted to go back to the conversation you were having with the ranking member, because I wanted to make sure I understood what you were saying, and I think I do.
And that is that when you look at the difference between the highways and transit, it seems like the red tape in the regulatory aspects that get in the way of communities like ours getting these projects off the ground, are what the U.S. Conference of Mayors is trying to deal with, is that right?
MAYOR HICKENLOOPER: Exactly.
SEN. BENNET: Okay. And then, I wonder if you talk just briefly about -- or is it just in your comment about how the existing formulas don't take into account things like economic development and the benefits of that.
And I think that my impression from your work in the metro area of Denver is that that was a critical part of being able to bring all these competing interests together to say, "You know, what, we can do this together."
And I wonder if you could share with the chairman of the committee what the economic developmental effects have already been in Denver as a consequence of the FasTracks, and not just Denver, but the region?
MAYOR HICKENLOOPER: Right. We can already see -- and again around the proposed transit-oriented developments around the stations, we can see an increase in property values. We can see a demonstrated -- an added success in terms of office space utilization and the price per square foot that office space rents out.
We also see a much greater expansion of investments around these stations and connected with the investment of light-rail to the point where as, I think this -- as it builds out, and by 2017, we will see many billions of dollars of, you know, significant level of multiplier from that original investment in terms of direct economic benefits.
That part of the -- the part you don't see is that collaborative nature of building FasTracks helps our community work collaboratively in all these other areas. And now we are beginning to merge together fire -- you know, fire districts and seeing dramatic savings in the delivery of other services by, except by doing it on a balkanized basis, by doing it in a collaborative and consolidated basis.
The savings in Denver alone, we will be able to take, you know, street repair, fire, police, six core services would be somewhere in the vicinity of $250 million per year.
We need to pull that all again, that's the back of the envelope kind of a rough justice approach. But those are all things you -- I think you have to kind of factor in to this kind of network.
SEN. BENNET: And I think it's particularly important when we talk about things like the deferred maintenance, that we were talking about a minute ago, to remember that this really is an investment in our communities, and investment in our economy. We need to think about it that way.
You can't -- I mean, in order to really have the cost benefit analysis penciled, we need to understand it. I wonder if either of the other two witnesses have --
MR. MARIE: Yes, Senator Bennet, the system in Denver is a remarkable success story. When you get right down to it, you're talking about a system that started. It was a 5.5 million -- 5.5-mile starter system consisting of 14 trains.
Within 60 days of opening that system, I was working -- it seems transportation systems at the time we built the trains for the Denver system, and also for the Salt Lake system, within two months of opening the system, they were calling us to order more trains, because they couldn't handle all the capacity on the line. And now I think the Denver RTD system is up to more than a 100 trains. And that's only in, you know, 12 or 13 years of operating.
So it's a tremendous success story. It spurred great development. I think we all have seen what's happened with our stations. They've become places where people want to go now, and to do business, and to have lunch, and to meet.
I could tell you that our stations on our Metro-North line and Stafford, New Haven and Fairfield, we have robust transit-oriented development programs, developing around those stations. And it's really up to us to work closely with those towns and municipalities to make those things come to fruition.
MS. SCOTT: We've had the same experience in the Atlanta region. Actually, the -- where our headquarters is, is one of the kind of legendary transit oriented developments with Lindberg, and we just had Georgia State University about a year ago completed a report for us.
We have -- just because of developments in our transit system, we've generated over $2.5 billion additional investment for the area, and over 40,000 jobs. And that's just to date, and when you look at what's projected over 2030, those numbers are like ten times.
SEN. DODD: Well, we are all that's left so --
I want, on behalf of the committee, thank the three of you for your testimonies. It's fascinating. I think we are in fascinating times in this country, and this is going to be a big part in moving us forward.
And with that we are adjourned.