Testifying About the New Senate Transportation Bill

I testified about the proposed bipartisan transportation bill outline yesterday, before nine Members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. At the end of the hearing, which you can watch here, I said I would be willing to "put my shoulder to the wheel" to help move it forward. Of course, I want to see more than just the outline before doing so, as much as I respect and admire Committee Chairman Boxer. I look forward to working her and her staff to advance effective transportation policies.

Here's my oral testimony (for the longer, footnoted written version click here):

Chairman Boxer, Ranking Member Inhofe, Members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me to testify today.

Imagine a world devoid of a national transportation system. We would face gridlock and paralysis. Ranchers and farmers would be unable to get products to markets. Manufacturers of vehicles parts would be unable to ship in the U.S. or overseas. Transportation is a key means to a variety of ends that boost the economy.

Current policy undermines America’s safety, energy and climate security, and economy. Now is the time to rectify that by:

1. Investing wisely by setting national mobility and access, safety, economic impact, energy use and environmental quality objectives.

Public investments in infrastructure can yield large economic productivity gains. $1 billion of investment in public transportation yields about $3.5 billion of GDP. Annual investments of $30 billion in America’s public transit systems and $10 billion in intercity and high-speed rail would create 3.7 million jobs overall and more than 600,000 jobs in manufacturing over six years. In addition, these investments would generate $60 billion in net annual gross domestic product, nearly $45 billion in additional worker income, and $14 billion in annual tax revenue, spurring additional growth throughout the economy.

Current fiscal constraints warrant collection and use of cost and benefit data during planning and project selection and design. Government should turn to a tool in the kit of successful companies: Strategic planning, including scenario-building. One study pegs the cost differential between strategic and business-as-usual investment at 12 percent for Sacramento; 24 percent for Albuquerque; and a whopping 51 percent for Nashville.

2. Fixing it first with a clearer, more aggressive repair and maintenance policy.

Deferred maintenance is a crisis. 500 bridges in America failed between 1989 and 2003. Today, nearly 70,000 bridges across the country are in disrepair. As former White House economic adviser Larry Summers put it, “You run a deficit both when you borrow money and when you defer maintenance that needs to be done. Either way, you’re imposing a cost on future generations.”

3. Breaking the oil habit by delivering mobility choice driven by a national oil-savings objective for our transportation policy and similar objectives for states and regions.

Transportation drives America’s dependence on foreign oil. While we have nearly weaned the electricity sector off oil, transportation remains almost entirely dependent. Nearly 70 percent of U.S. oil use is for transportation. Overall we have a 9,000-gallon-per-second habit.

How do we reduce our oil dependence? Raising the bar on fuel economy performance of our vehicles, for starters. Providing consumers with more fuel choices by making cars pluggable is next. The third prong of an attack on oil dependence is greater mobility choice. Consumers deserve more options for travel, including high-occupancy toll lanes, bus rapid transit, telecommuting, technology that improves road and transit traffic flow as well as convenient and safe opportunities to walk and bike.

4. Securing funding and financing with new tools, such as an oil security fee, an increase in the gas tax or a VMT fee, as well as innovative financing.

Expansion of TIFIA and other tools involving public-private partnerships such as infrastructure banks should award assistance on a competitive basis, focused on maximizing returns based on measurable outcomes including fuel savings and pollution cuts. Performance measurement and accountability must be a rigorous component of any expanded program.

5. Improving project delivery by tackling real causes, not compromising environmental reviews.

Environmental reviews account for only a small share of transportation project delays. Lack of adequate financing is a bigger factor. And few projects need an Environmental Impact Statement, with even fewer subject to controversy. Congress should not “legislate-by-anecdote” based on horror stories, but evaluate project delays and tackle them with planning improvements and adequate resources for reviewers.

6. Moving goods faster, cleaner and cheaper with a freight program to facilitate affordable goods movement while reducing environmental harms.

We can meet growing demand for goods while saving oil as well as reducing air pollution, water pollution and noise through targeted provisions. Specifically, we recommend a competitive grant program to fund innovative projects based on energy and environmental performance criteria developed in coordination with EPA and other stakeholders.

7. Protecting natural resources by setting a stormwater-runoff performance standard for new and rehabilitated highways and roads.

Smart pollution mitigation strategies such as “green roads and highways” are a cost-effective way to reduce stormwater runoff, flooding and help meet clean water requirements.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. We must press forward with wise investments in a smarter and greener transportation program. Let’s get to work.