Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, delivered the following opening remarks at today's meeting of the Bicameral Surface Transportation Reauthorization Conference:
Remarks as prepared for delivery:
Thank you Chairwoman Boxer and Chairman Mica for holding this important meeting of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Conference Committee. As a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee I am pleased to have been selected as a member of this critically important Conference. It is my hope that we can work together to craft a long term reauthorization which puts people back to work and allows our local governments to fund important transportation programs and projects.
Since SAFETEA-LU expired in 2009 we have asked our states, cities and municipalities to work under a series of short-term extensions. This process is unsustainable and unacceptable. The uncertainty created by this fractured approach has stalled projects from getting started and caused states to reconsider many new projects which could improve the movement of goods and people. Every time I speak with transportation professionals they continually stress the importance of a new long-term solution, which gives them certainty of funding and regulations. This certainty lets construction companies know that the project they are bidding on will be funded and they can allocate their workers to the various jobs which they may be working on. Unemployment is at 8.1% nationally and one of the sectors that has been hit the hardest has been the construction industry. I believe that we can produce a bill which will put people back to work, reform programs which have grown too big, and lessen the bureaucratic red-tape which delays projects and increases costs.
The needs of our highways, bridges and transit systems are great, recent studies have shown that the deficiencies in our system will require an investment of over $1.7 trillion by 2020. We need a long-term bill which maximizes the money available to the Highway Trust fund while still leaving the trust fund stable into the future. The real truth is we are spending more money than we bring in and increases in fuel efficiency coupled with more Americans identifying alternative modes of transportation continues to decrease the money entering the highway trust fund. In my state of West Virginia we have a tremendous need for bridge repair and road construction to improve access to rural areas. West Virginia is one of the most beautiful states in the Union, and our mountains have created jobs and a tax base for so many in the state. At the same time our terrain drives up our cost to build and maintain roads and bridges. We need to identify new sources of long-term funding to fix our crumbling infrastructure.
The shrinking revenue is accompanied by the massive expansion of the size and scope of the Surface Transportation Program. The gas tax was designed to pay for construction projects and capital improvements for public transportation; however, over the decades we have added on projects and policies which have directed money to projects which do not improve transportation along the federal aid highway system. Adding mandates to the program and consolidating power in Washington ties the hands of our local DOT's and forces them to divert money away from essential projects and toward projects which may not be as vital as others. The problem is not solely with unnecessary projects, as we all know, "Time is Money", bureaucratic red tape and archaic environmental review processes have slowed down projects and added unnecessary costs. Last year we held a listening session in my hometown of Charleston, which some of the conferees attended. The overwhelming sentiment among those present was that Washington slows down the process, environmental reviews and bureaucratic policies tie the hands of our states and delay our construction companies from putting people to work. Simple changes like reviewing projects concurrently rather than consecutively can save states money which can then be spent on other projects. Granting states a categorical exemption on existing right-of-way can allow states to add new lanes of highway without having to go through the environmental review process for a highway which has already done one. Encouraging states to enter into public-private partnerships can help states leverage their federal funds and decrease their need to spend money on maintaining their roads and bridges. Instead of adding costs to construct roads we should find areas where we can reduce costs. Classifying coal ash as a hazardous material would increase the cost of concrete and further constrain our ability to improve our infrastructure. We need to give states the autonomy to build roads and improve our crumbling transportation system.
The reason that the highway bill is so important and the reason we are all here is jobs. The Surface Transportation Program is a jobs bill, companies will hire people in every state and it will give people the certainty that their job is not tenuously waiting on another extension. We have an opportunity to create jobs in a variety of industries, including the oil and gas industry, the Keystone Pipeline could immediately create thousands of jobs just by building the pipeline. In North Dakota they are seeing a jobs explosion due to the Bakken Tar Sands find. The Keystone pipeline means jobs and a steady supply of oil from one of our best allies. Being from an energy state I know that the American energy industry is the best in the world, we need to tap our own vast resources rather than make it more difficult to take advantage of what we have. With 8.1% unemployment and increasing tensions in many of the oil producing nations, we do not have the luxury to turn down jobs and a secure source of oil.
It is my hope that we can put together a bill which responsibly reforms the Surface Transportation Program. We need to maximize our revenues and maintain the Highway Trust Fund for the future. We need to put people back to work and give them the certainty that their job will be there until the project is completed. This can be done with many of the reforms we have discussed, but the longer we wait the more expensive it will be and more of our roads and bridges will continue to become deficient. I yield back the rest of my time.