Today, Senator Tim Johnson, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, held a field hearing in Sioux Falls to discuss the importance of public transportation in rural and tribal communities. The hearing also highlighted the role of federal investment in highways and transit throughout South Dakota. Senator Johnson's Committee is responsible for authorizing the public transportation portion of federal surface transportation legislation, including funding for rural transit.
As Chairman, he worked with both Republicans and Democrats last year to pass a bipartisan transportation bill that strengthens transit and highway programs and expands funding for rural states. "Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act", better known as "MAP-21," passed the House and Senate with strong bipartisan support last year and was signed into law last July by President Obama.
"Demand for public transportation has grown tremendously in South Dakota in recent years," said Chairman Johnson. "Bus and van services in South Dakota help individuals and families get where they need to go, whether they're traveling to work, going to the doctor, buying groceries, or heading to class. Transit helps people stay in their homes as they age and travel while saving money on gas. MAP-21 brings much needed investment in South Dakota's transportation system to repair roads and bridges, replace aging buses and create jobs."
"I am pleased to once again visit South Dakota at Senator Tim Johnson's request. Investments in transportation solutions that meet everyone's needs are critical in South Dakota--from commuters living in Sioux Falls to working families, seniors, and veterans living in rural towns and on tribal lands," said Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff. "That's why the Federal Transit Administration has made significant investments over the past four years to modernize, repair, and enhance transit service so that everyone who needs a ride can find one--whether it's for getting to work, to the doctor's, to school, or to the grocery store."
Strengthening transit services across South Dakota, including small, rural communities and reservations, is a top priority for Chairman Johnson. In a large state with low population density, rural providers cover many miles and have increased wear-and-tear on vehicles. Senator Johnson's transit bill modified the rural funding formula to reflect those challenges, boosting South Dakota's share. By eliminating earmarks and using those previously earmarked funds, South Dakota's guaranteed transit formula funding increases by an estimated $4.8 million compared with fiscal year 2012, an increase of 48%.
At the hearing, Senator Johnson heard from federal and state officials, transit providers, a transit rider, and a transit advocate. The witnesses included Peter Rogoff, Administrator of the Federal Transit Administration; Darin Bergquist, Secretary of the South Dakota Department of Transportation; Cosette Fester, a disabled Sioux Falls paratransit rider; Michael Cooper, Director, Planning and Building Services, City of Sioux Falls; Barbara Cline, Executive Director of Prairie Hills Transit (Spearfish); Emma Featherman-Sam, Coordinator for Oglala Sioux Transit (Pine Ridge); Lynne Forbes, Executive Director of the South Eastern Council of Governments (Sioux Falls); and Sarah Jennings, South Dakota State Director for AARP.
"As we heard today, rural bus systems provide an invaluable service that helps many people travel safely. The surface transportation law invests in our roads and bridges and supports reliable transportation in our smaller communities," said Johnson. "I thank our panelists for sharing their insights today, and for all their hard work providing transportation options in communities throughout South Dakota and Indian Country."
Below are Chairman Johnson's opening remarks from today's hearing, as prepared for delivery.
"Good afternoon. This hearing will come to order. Today, the Banking Committee holds its first full committee hearing on transit and transportation issues since Congress passed a two-year surface transportation bill, MAP-21, which President Obama signed into law last July.
"I have long recognized the importance of public transit in South Dakota. Affordable and accessible transit gives people a freedom and mobility that many of us take for granted, and I'm glad we can be here in South Dakota to talk about how public transportation helps so many individuals and families get where they need to go, whether they're commuting to work, buying groceries, or visiting the doctor. Rural transit also helps people stay in their communities as they age or travel to work while saving money on gas.
"As Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, I was proud to work with both Republicans and Democrats last year to pass a bipartisan transportation bill that strengthens highway and transit programs and expands funding for rural states. I worked closely with our Committee's prior Republican ranking member, Senator Shelby of Alabama, to develop the public transportation portion of MAP-21. Our Committee approved its provisions with unanimous bipartisan support, and the full Senate passed MAP-21 with a strong bipartisan majority.
"MAP-21 does not solve all of the long-term issues facing the Federal Highway Trust Fund, but the law increases support for public transportation and highways for two years. In fact, South Dakota's transit formula funding is significantly boosted by MAP-21, but even more funding is needed for bus replacement and highway improvements. MAP-21 represents a solid federal commitment to transportation investment in a difficult budget environment. The bill supports 10,000 jobs in South Dakota, about 500 of which are connected to transit. I will continue to build on the progress we have made, and work to strengthen the federal commitment to transportation programs in our state.
"Today, we are joined by some important leaders who helped make MAP-21 a reality. The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration share my belief in the importance of transit options in rural America, and I'm very pleased to welcome FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff today.
"This is Administrator Rogoff's second trip to South Dakota since I took over as Chairman of the Committee. He accompanied Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on a visit to Pierre last October where we all took part in the grand opening of the newly expanded River Cities Public Transit Facility.
"The State of South Dakota has also championed the federal role in transportation, for both highways and transit. I thank our Secretary of Transportation Darin Bergquist for joining us today. And finally, our second panel is made up of those who understand public transportation best, representatives of the users and operators of transit in South Dakota.
"In a large, sparsely populated state like ours, transit providers cover long distances, which puts increased wear-and-tear on their vehicles and requires significant coordination to stretch limited resources. They are rising to the challenge by working hard to coordinate service with a number of federal, state and local partners.
"Transit has become quite meaningful for members of South Dakota's tribes as well. It provides tribal members more connections to jobs, better access to medical care, and easier trips for shopping and school. In recognition of that growing importance, the new formula funding I authored will bring significant guaranteed funding to strengthen South Dakota tribal transit providers.
"Thank you to all of the witnesses for traveling here today, and thank you for your commitment to improving transportation for all Americans. With that, I'd like to invite Administrator Rogoff to begin his testimony."