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Public Statements

Transportation, Housing And Urban Development, And Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, D.C.

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Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, I have sought recognition to speak on the pending amendment relating to the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation. There has been an effort to delete an appropriation of $200,000 to help the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation clean up and remove hazardous waste and prepare the site for future development.

In phase I, there will be a cleanup of asbestos and hazardous waste, with a total cost of $1.2 million. On phase II, there will be construction for a total cost of $90 million to $100 million.

The project is a brownfield redevelopment site preparation for the future construction of One Grandview Avenue in the city of Pittsburgh.

The site currently includes a blighted structure in a state of total disrepair. The dilapidated building has been vacant since 1979 and was recently condemned by the city of Pittsburgh.

Historically, this property has been the hub of illegal activities and has been a public safety hazard for the city. Since 1989, there have been over 30 documented incidents of assault, vandalism, and theft at the location.

The residents of the area have signed a petition in favor of the Grandview apartment development, which cites the chaotic history of this particular locale. Three hundred people have signed on urging that the development take place, and the petition reads in part:

Since the summer of 2008, the developer and his representatives have attended countless meetings with the MWCDC [the development project].

It goes on to recite the details of what is needed there. What the $200,000 will be designed for is, arguably, a responsibility of the Federal Government for failure to take steps to avoid that kind of contamination or, once the contamination occurs, to make remedial action to improve it. The total cost is going to be in the neighborhood of $1.2 million. The Federal contribution, which we are asking for on this earmark, is, I submit, a very modest matter and a good reason for the Federal Government to undertake greater responsibility than $200,000.

In addition to the citizens, the request has been made by the mayor of the city of Pittsburgh. I ask unanimous consent that the petition from his chief of staff be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD

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Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, this has also been supported by Senator Casey, Congressman MIKE DOYLE, in whose district it is, and by Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, the county council, the Mount Washington community, and by two representatives of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, Senator Wayne Fontana and Representative Chelsa Wagner.

It is hard to envisage a more appropriate use of $200,000 than is present here. It is a clear-cut matter of looking to the Federal Government to fulfill its responsibility to an area that has become blighted, a waste site that should have been cleaned up a long time ago under Federal law.

AMENDMENT NO. 2410

Mr. President, in addition to the considerations on the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation, I am opposed to the amendment No. 2410, which would prohibit the use of funds for the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport.

A similar amendment was defeated in the House of Representatives by a decisive vote of 263 to 154. This airport supports 45,000 takeoffs and landings per year.

The Cambria County Airport receives Federal funding from the Essential Air Service, a program run by the Department of Transportation on a formula basis to rural regions. The recently passed stimulus also provides funding but on a purely competitive basis.

The Johnstown Airport is one of many airports across the United States that receive Essential Air Service annual funding. The current subsidy is $1.4 million or just over $100 per passenger. There are 152 similar regional airports around the country, including a number in my State, in Altoona, Bradford, Dubois, Lancaster, and Oil City. Johnstown Airport ranks only 40th in the per-passenger subsidies.

The majority of the $150 million that critics cite was funded for military purposes.

There are over 1,000 Guard and Reserve troops stationed at the airport, and they use these facilities daily. These troops have been involved in over 19 overseas deployments in the last 5 years alone to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other areas around the world. The upgrades funded in previous years were essential to keep these troops in a proper state of readiness to sustain such a high rate of deployment.

National Guard LTC Christopher Cleaver had this to say:

The airport is a vital part of the Guard's strategic deployment plans. In today's climate of warfare, it's extremely prudent to be able to move fast.

We have a commitment to mobilize in 96 hours. It's a great advantage to have a runway at your doorstep to quickly move to anywhere in the world.

On this basis, I think the appropriation is entirely warranted.

AMENDMENT NO. 2366

Mr. President, I have sought recognition to discuss my vote against an amendment offered to the fiscal year 2010 Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill. the amendment, offered by Senator Roger Wicker, would cut off funding for Amtrak unless it amends its current policy and allows passengers to transport firearms by March 31, 2010. It is my understanding that Amtrak implemented the firearm ban in 2004 after it conducted a review and evaluation of security measures following the attacks on passenger trains in Madrid on April 11, 2004.

Though Amtrak ought to have authority to set policy that is in its best interest, I am reluctant to support a policy that prohibits law abiding citizens from carrying permitted firearms. This policy was the subject of a similar amendment that Senator Wicker introduced on April 2, 2009, to the fiscal year 2010 budget resolution. The budget resolution established a reserve fund for multimodal transportation projects and Senator Wicker's amendment to the budget disqualified Amtrak from accessing this proposed reserve fund if it did not allow passengers to transport firearms. I supported that amendment and it passed 63-35. However, the passage of that amendment did not jeopardize Amtrak's regular annual appropriation.

On the other hand, Senator Wicker's amendment on September 16, 2009, to the Appropriations bill may ultimately result in a complete cutoff of Federal funding for Amtrak. The legislation we are considering includes $1.574 billion for Amtrak and this funding is critical to maintaining our national passenger rail system. Amtrak provides a vital service for the entire Nation and I have consistently advocated for robust Federal funding to support its operations. Cutting off Federal funding would cause passenger rail operations to cease and deprive millions of Americans from an important mode of transportation. I am not willing to risk stranding Amtrak users in order to compel Amtrak to amend its firearm policy.

We ought to consider Amtrak's firearm policy independently from the appropriations process. Should Congress decide to mandate a revision to this policy, Amtrak ought to be given sufficient time to ensure it has proper personnel and infrastructure in place without the threat of funding cuts for not meeting an unrealistic implementation deadline.

Mr. President, I also wish to describe an amendment I have introduced to the fiscal year 2010 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. This amendment preserves funding which has already been secured for a critical project in Pennsylvania.

The corridor along U.S. route 422 in southeastern Pennsylvania has experienced rapid population growth over the past decade including many daily commuters to Philadelphia. This population expansion has led to significant congestion along route 422 in Montgomery and Berks Counties. Transportation officials and community leaders in the area have for years worked diligently developing proposals to mitigate the congestion and expand mobility options for residents living along the corridor.

The community has made considerable progress in this effort over the past 2 years, including completion in 2008 of a study to consider the feasibility of extending an existing rail line and commencement in 2009 of a study to explore long-term financing options for a commuter rail system and maintenance of route 422. Additionally, on August 24, 2009, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood joined me for a roundtable meeting with local public officials and transportation leaders to discuss the problem and these recent developments.

The amendment I have introduced would simply preserve funding that was included in appropriation bills from previous years to support the local effort in this important undertaking.

I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.

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