TRANSPORTATION EQUITY ACT: A LEGACY FOR USERS -- (House of Representatives - March 09, 2005)
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Mr. SHUSTER. Mr. Chairman, I rise today in support of H.R. 3. It has been a long time coming. I want to commend the gentleman from Alaska (Chairman Young) and the ranking member, the gentleman from Minnesota (Mr. Oberstar), as well as the subcommittee chairman, the gentleman from Wisconsin (Mr. Petri), and the ranking member, the gentleman from Oregon (Mr. DeFazio), for their efforts on behalf of our Nation's transportation system.
As a Pennsylvanian who represents a broad geographic region, I know the issue of transportation is critical to all of our constituents. I am very pleased that the legislation before us today includes many initiatives to combat congestion on our Nation's highways and further relieve bottlenecks on our roads.
H.R. 3 contains innovative real-time and intelligent transportation initiatives that allow States to monitor and improve traffic flow and enhance safety. Building on these innovative programs, I also encourage support of an amendment that will be offered by my colleague, the gentleman from Minnesota (Mr. Kennedy), to create voluntary toll or fast lanes. Drivers who chose to use these fast lanes will be charged electronically, eliminating the toll booths that add to backups and congestion. It will allow for our States to collect the funds necessary to increase the capacity on our highways. Congestion is a tremendous drag on our economy today, and it needs to be addressed.
One concern, Mr. Chairman, I do have with this bill is the rate of return States will receive under this measure. It has been the wise practice in surface transportation reauthorization to take into account that some regions are saddled with greater needs than others and need a larger rate of return to maintain our national transportation system.
My home State of Pennsylvania is unique in that we have more miles of State highway to maintain than all of New England and New York combined. Additionally, the Commonwealth ranks third in the amount of through truck traffic that neither originates nor terminates in the State. Pennsylvania receives little benefit from such commerce traveling through our State, yet States such as Florida, which is able to get its goods to the large Northeastern markets, benefit, while we still suffer from the constant pounding and damage caused by this through traffic.
As we move forward to conference, I would encourage my colleagues to continue returning funds to States based on needs so that we can continue to have a safe and efficient national highway system.
Lastly, Mr. Chairman, I want to take a minute to address an issue that has become of increasing concern to me and many of my fellow Pennsylvanians on the committee.
In recent weeks, the Governor of our State has continued to flex funds designated for highway projects to bail out the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia transit systems to the tune of $412 million, which is roughly one-third of what Pennsylvania will receive from the Federal Government in funding next year.
Mr. Chairman, transferring funds set aside by the government for highway projects to bail out troubled transit systems is wrong. The transit system in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia has continually had problems meeting its financial responsibility, and it is out of the pockets of rural Pennsylvanians that the funding shortfalls are met.
Critical highway projects in our region are put in jeopardy when highway moneys are transferred to transit. Our highway system weaves a thread of viability through our State and between our urban areas. Quite simply, you cannot travel from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia without going through rural central Pennsylvania.
To this end, I am pleased that included in the bill is language directing the Government Accountability Office to review this transfer authority and how it is being used. I want to thank my colleagues, the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Gerlach) and the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Dent), for their support on our effort on this issue.
It is critical that Congress address this issue and examine the possible need of limiting Governors' ability to shift funds in the future. Rural Pennsylvanians, rural Americans should not have to continue to foot the bill for transit riders in the large metropolitan areas of this country.
Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the chairman again, the gentleman from Wisconsin (Chairman PETRI), and the committee staff for all their hard work and efforts in getting H.R. 3 to the floor today.
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