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Conference Report on H.R. 4348, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Ms. EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON of Texas. Madam Speaker, I would like to voice my support for the transportation reauthorization conference report. While I was disappointed in how House Republicans broke with the tradition of working in a bipartisan fashion on transportation policy, I appreciate the Senate's bipartisan approach, which is responsible in large part for the bill we have today. In addition to the transportation reauthorization, we have been able to come together to prevent student loan interest rates from increasing, and secure a five-year reauthorization of the Flood Insurance program. It is my hope that moving forward we can look at this conference agreement as a model of what can be accomplished legislatively by seeking bipartisan, bicameral common ground.
But as with all legislation, there were many compromises, and there were several aspects of the report which I believe could further be improved. On balance, however, the conference report contains needed policy direction and authorizations that warrant support.

Most importantly, transportation reauthorization will provide much needed stimulus to local economies, and get those in the construction and manufacturing industries back to work. This bill will create or save more than 2 million jobs, and authorize highway and transit programs for more than two years. The bill will also make key reforms in consolidating transportation programs, cut red tape, and leverage federal resources to expand public-private partnerships in transportation.
This is also a good bill for Texas. Under this agreement, Texas is slated to receive more than $3 billion annually in highway formula funds. Unlike the original House legislation, H.R. 7, this conference agreement preserves mass transit funding through the Highway Trust Fund. Funding for mass transit is critical for my district, and Texas as a whole, as we work to develop solutions to alleviate congestion and alternative modes of transportation to accommodate a growing population. Texas has also been very successful in utilizing Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, TIFIA, funding, and will continue to benefit under the conference agreement, which increases funding for the TIFIA program to $750 million for FY 2013 and to $1 billion for FY 2014. It also increases the maximum share of project costs that can be funded through the TIFIA program from 33 percent to 49 percent. This agreement will give the Texas Department of Transportation, local transit agencies, and contractors some much-needed certainty as they plan transportation projects.

This agreement will also give 461,533 Texas students relief from the impending student loan interest increase. I am very pleased that provisions blocking the rate hike are included in the conference report. In Texas and all across the country, students and recent college graduates are now facing the highest unemployment rate of any other group. Without action, the loan rates for 7.4 million college students would have doubled, adding $6.3 billion to students' debt burden in one year alone.

As the Ranking Member of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, I recognize that the long-term viability of our transportation system requires a continued commitment to quality research and the development of new transportation technologies and materials that will make our transportation infrastructure--and the vehicles traveling on that infrastructure--safer, stronger, and more sustainable. I am pleased that the conference report acknowledges the important role of research and development across the Department of Transportation.

Specifically, we cannot deny that our current transportation system places an enormous burden on the environment and public health, and therefore, I am pleased that the conference report authorizes a separate environmental research program within the Federal Highway Administration. At a time when many metropolitan regions are still struggling to meet basic health standards for air pollution, we cannot afford to stop research that will lead to a cleaner, safer, and more efficient highway system. The research conducted under this program will ensure that State and local transportation officials have the tools they need to make informed and effective decisions about local transportation projects and the environment.

I also want to express my satisfaction that the conference report provides the framework and guidance necessary to allow us to begin to really understand and, more importantly, mitigate the long-term impacts of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on the Gulf Coast States. Regardless of whether you live in the coastal communities of Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, or Florida, the Gulf of Mexico provides a wealth of products and services that benefit the entire nation. The Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund will provide the resources necessary to restore the health of this unique ecosystem and revitalize the region's economy.
Finally, I would like to thank my colleagues for working with me to fix a technical error in the authorization levels for the research programs under the Federal Highway Administration. In the conference committee's haste to put together the report, it appears that the authorization levels in the Research and Education Division were not updated accordingly, but thankfully this oversight has been addressed.

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