EPW Hearing Statement: Hearing on the Nomination of Nicole R. Nason to be Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the hearing on the nomination of Nicole R. Nason to be administrator of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“Ms. Nason, thank you for appearing before our committee this morning. We welcome you here today, and we welcome your nomination to lead the Federal Highway Administration.

“It has now been more than two years since there has been an administrator for the Federal Highway Administration. That is the longest gap in leadership for the agency in more than 100 years, which was long before our nation’s Interstate System even existed—back when the Federal Highway Administration was known as the Bureau of Public Roads.

“I’ve long said that leadership is the key to the success of any organization. We have heard many times over the last two years that the Trump Administration is eager to enact major infrastructure legislation and make significant investments in rebuilding our country’s roads, highways, bridges and transit systems. With that in mind, in my view, it is counterintuitive to leave vacant such an important leadership role in the Federal Highway Administration—an agency with a critical infrastructure mission.

“I hope that the nomination of Ms. Nason to be administrator of FHWA is both evidence that the Trump Administration is aware of these organizational needs, and also a signal that the administration is ready to work with Congress on reauthorizing our nation’s transportation programs.

“The Federal Highway Administration is the lead federal agency that oversees more than 220,000 miles of our national highway system and some 145,000 bridges. Today, far too many of those roadways and bridges have been in use beyond their original design and are in poor condition.

“Too many drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists put their lives at risk when they use our roadways. In 2017, there were more than 37,000 fatalities on our nation’s roadways. For context, that’s approximately the same number as the number of lives lost annually in our country to gun violence. Too many Americans also lack access to reliable transit or safe places to walk or bike, or to charging stations for an electric vehicle. That means the many people in our country who would like to reduce their carbon footprint may not have many real options to do so.

“Next year, the FAST Act, which provided five years of funding and policy certainty for our transportation sector, is set to expire. Congress must work now on reauthorizing our federal surface transportation programs so that we can provide continued certainty for states, tribal communities, and cities, while also addressing the opportunities and challenges facing our transportation sector today and in the years to come.

“We have a rapidly evolving transportation industry in which new tools, data and technology are disrupting traditional practices of planning, building, operating and using road infrastructure.

“Our climate is changing.  Our vehicles and travel patterns accelerate and exacerbate that change, while at the same time, increasingly extreme weather events and sea level rise wear down our transportation networks.

“In addition to these major policy concerns, we face another problem. A big one. Our Highway Trust Fund is going broke. Last year, we spent about $13 billion more from the Highway Trust Fund than we collected in revenues. Next year, that deficit will be even greater. To pay for the FAST Act, we took $70 billion from the General Fund and other programs. For the next five-year transportation bill, we will need to find an additional $85 billion just to keep our programs at the current funding level. Despite spending more than we collect, we still aren’t even spending enough.  The backlog of money needed to rehabilitate and improve highways and bridges has grown to $800 billion.  Think about that.  $800 billion!

“And while we’re thinking about that, let me conclude by saying that I hope Ms. Nason will prove to be a true partner to those of us here in Congress, one who will work with us from Day One to address these and other challenges in the months and years ahead. The challenges are great, but so are the opportunities, and I’m hopeful that Ms. Nason will prove to be the leader who’s needed to find opportunity in adversity. Thank you.”