Our nation must use an integrated approach to solve our transportation problems. Though maintaining a safe and effective roadway system is essential, we must work to provide Americans with other methods of transportation as well.
Transportation options like mass transit, passenger rail and places that make it easy to bike or walk offer us more vibrant and livable communities where local businesses can invest and grow. These diverse transit options improve air quality, reduce our reliance on foreign oil and support healthier lifestyles. Since transportation is a major source of carbon dioxide emissions, we cannot effectively fight climate change without reining in pollution from the transportation sector.
A strong national infrastructure is part of the foundation of our economy, but we have a big challenge ahead when it comes to paying for that infrastructure. While the gas tax – which funds our transportation programs – hasn’t changed since 1993, the price of steel, concrete, asphalt, and labor has gone up. And Americans are driving more fuel efficient vehicles, including hybrids, so they’re using less gas and generating less revenue to fund transportation programs. This means that we are investing much less in transportation than we were 20 years ago, even though our population continues to grow and our existing transportation infrastructure continues to age.
I’ve recently proposed legislation that would gradually restore that purchasing power of the gas tax that has been lost since 1993, and ensure that our investments keep up with inflation thereafter. This is a fiscally responsible approach to making sure that we have the type of a world-class transportation network that can support a world-leading economy. In the mean time, Congress should explore fair and sustainable alternatives to the traditional gas tax to ensure that America can maintain and expand our transportation system so it can continue to serve Americans safely and effectively for generations to come and so that we can better compete in the global marketplace.
We will also need to make sure that this funding is going to programs that Americans have faith in and that are achieving real results, like cutting congestion, improving safety, and reducing reliance on foreign oil. We also need to make transportation more affordable. For most American families, transportation is the second largest budget item, after housing costs. This is because we built homes far from work places, provided few transit options, and made it unsafe for a child to even walk to school. While we took steps toward addressing these problems in the transportation bill Congress passed into law in 2012, we must build on that progress – especially if we are going to ask Americans to pay more for these services.
One of my top priorities since coming to Congress has been to enhance intercity passenger rail systems, like Amtrak. Amtrak meets the transportation needs of millions of Americans and thousands of businesses nationwide, including more than 700,000 Delaware riders each year. Funding for intercity rail projects is a critical step toward modernizing our transportation infrastructure, reducing congestion on our roads and highways, and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
Fuel efficiency is also an essential component of our nation’s transportation solution. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 was a landmark effort to reduce our nation's dependence on foreign oil and decrease air pollution. The legislation included a bipartisan compromise - developed by my colleagues and I in the Senate – to increase the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard from 10 miles per gallon to 35 miles per gallon by model year 2020. President Obama recently moved up this deadline to 2016 and has set an additional goal of reaching 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. By 2025, this enhanced fuel efficiency standard will cut U.S. oil consumption by 2.2 million barrels of oil per day compared with 2010 levels, nearly twice the amount of oil currently imported from the Persian Gulf each day. It will also save consumers $1.7 trillion in fuel costs and result in an average fuel savings of more than $8,000 per vehicle.
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