EPW Hearing Statement: Investing in America’s Surface Transportation Infrastructure: The Need for a Multi-Year Reauthorization Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) held the hearing, “Investing in America’s Surface Transportation Infrastructure: The Need for a Multi-Year Reauthorization Bill.” Below is the opening statement of EPW Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“It is an honor to be joined by a distinguished panel of witnesses. I’d especially like to extend a warm welcome to a witness here from Delaware, a longtime leader in transportation in the First State, former Transportation Secretary, Carolann Wicks.

“It’s my hope that our conversation today will serve to inform this committee’s ongoing work as we proceed with negotiating the reauthorization of our nation’s surface transportation program. Let me begin by sharing why I believe this particular reauthorization is so important. 

“Just last week, we celebrated the 243rd anniversary of the signing of our nation’s Declaration of Independence, on which our Founding Fathers asserted Americans’ inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I often link those three inalienable rights with the work we do on this committee – because Americans cannot be guaranteed life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness without clean air to breathe or safe water to drink. And, the fact is, Americans cannot truly enjoy life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness without a safe transportation system that nurtures our economy, protects our environment and enhances our mobility.

“Over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, some 49 million Americans traveled on our roads, highways and bridges in order to be able to head for the nearest beach, hike mountain trails, go fishing or camping, visit loved ones, or celebrate our nation’s history.  They visited all of our states, and some even made it to the 49th largest state in the U.S. to enjoy our five-star beaches, tax-free shopping, and much more. Others traveled to places like Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, and to Denali National Park in Alaska, as well as to the Grand Canyon, to experience some of our nation’s many natural wonders.

“Wherever the destination, these trips had at least one thing in common: almost all of us relied on our nation’s transportation system to get us there.

“Hopefully, most travelers found the roads and bridges they traveled on smooth and uncongested, and they were able to arrive safely at their destination. But, unfortunately, that was not always the case.

“Based on data from previous years, we know that roughly 600 people died over the holiday weekend as they were navigating our roadways. That’s more than the total membership of the U.S. House and Senate combined. We also know that, as Americans traveled over the holiday weekend, we released millions of tons of harmful greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to our climate crisis. Emissions on holiday weekends are even higher than usual due to increased traffic, and in some cities, emissions were three to four times worse than average.

“While none of us travels with the goal of sitting in traffic or getting into an accident or worsening climate change, so many of our roadways are so outdated, in dangerous condition or in desperate need of redesign, that they are leading to outcomes that none of us want.

“For too many travelers, there are simply no low-emission travel options available. Electric vehicles are an option, but without a comprehensive nationwide network of electric vehicle charging infrastructure and other alternative fueling infrastructure in place, many consumers lack the confidence needed to purchase the electric vehicles that can help us address our climate crisis. 

“In order to address these challenges, our committee began bipartisan work on the next reauthorization of our transportation programs earlier this year, and I’m proud to say that we have made demonstrable progress thanks to the contributions of every member of this committee, as well as to the hard work of our staff members.

“As we’ve undertaken this work, we’ve recognized that we start with transportation programs that help us achieve many of our mobility goals but can still be improved, particularly with respect to enhancing climate resilience, reducing harmful emissions and improving safety

“For example, just this week, people in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. experienced record-breaking rain and flash flooding. Nearly four inches of rain fell in one hour right here, washing out roads, flooding transit stations, creating sinkholes and leaving many commuters stranded. Some roads remain impassable. Not far away from here, Ellicott City, Maryland has withstood two 1,000-year floods in less than two years. Earlier this year, communities across Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and other parts of the Midwest experienced unprecedented flooding that destroyed bridges, dams and levees. One stretch of Interstate 29 in Missouri was flooded with 15 feet of water. And, as we gather here today, 11 states are reporting enormous wildfires, including a fire in Alaska where nearly 700,000 acres have burned this month. That’s an area almost the size of Rhode Island!

“Our nation’s scientists tell us that climate change left unchecked means even more frequent and intense storms – more record-breaking rainfalls, bomb cyclones and wildfires the size of even larger states.

“Smart planning and targeted investments in the resiliency of our nation’s infrastructure will ensure that roadways can better withstand these worsening effects of climate change. This will save American taxpayers untold billions by allowing us to avoid rebuilding the same infrastructure projects again and again after severe weather events.

“At the same time, smart investments in electric charging and low-emission alternative fueling infrastructure will provide travelers with better choices so traveling to visit loved ones doesn’t come at our climate’s expense.

“It is also essential that we make the safety of our roadways a top priority. More than 37,000 people are dying on our roads each year. We can do better than that. A lot better. Especially for the bicyclists and pedestrians who are, sadly, a growing share of the deaths we’re witnessing in all of our states.

“Let me also note, it’s imperative that we better ensure that the roads and transportation systems that we design and build today will continue to meet the travel and commerce needs of the future. That includes integrating new technology so that advanced vehicles that are increasingly automated will be able to operate safely on our roads.

“Finally, I have always believed that a long-term focus on national needs must include identifying new sources of sustainable, user-fee based revenues to support investments into transportation.

“In closing, these are some of the important issues where I believe this committee can find bipartisan agreement and – in doing so – lead by example for other committees who will be responsible for developing titles of a major surface transportation reauthorization. The work that we do on this committee is of critical importance to the people of our country. None is more important than the work we focus on today. The people we are privileged to represent are counting on us. 

“Let’s show them that we’re up to the challenge by doing our part and by helping to restore our surface transportation programs to solvency, so that we can keep that promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness on which our nation was founded.”