U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), spoke on the Senate floor today on the introduction of America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act (ATIA), a major surface transportation reauthorization bill co-authored by Ranking Member Carper that makes a $287 billion investment in upgrading our nation’s roads, highways and bridges. The bipartisan bill includes the first-ever title on climate change – which if enacted would lower transportation emissions and help our infrastructure withstand the impacts of extreme weather. EPW is holding a business meeting tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. considering ATIA, among other measures.
View Senator Carper’s speech by clicking here.
The full text of the speech is below, as prepared for delivery.
“Mr. President, I rise today to discuss America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act, legislation I have just introduced with EPW Chairman John Barrasso, along with our subcommittee Chair Shelley Moore Capito and Ranking Member Ben Cardin. Our legislation reauthorizes our nation’s surface transportation laws and makes an historic $287 billion investment in our nation’s roads, highways and bridges.
“Our nation’s first federal highway bill was enacted just a few years after the world’s first concrete highway was paved outside of Detroit, Michigan. Henry Ford had just introduced the Model T, and the first stop-go traffic light would soon be installed at the intersection of East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio.
“A century ago, the idea of speedy and safe transcontinental travel was beyond our imagination and even further from being realized. We’ve come a long way since then. Today, more than four million miles of roadway and 600,000 bridges help link our country together. Some 220,000 of those miles combine to make up our national highway system.
“Our transportation infrastructure is essential to America’s economy, to our society and to our way of life. It connects us to commerce and services and, more importantly, to each other. The sad truth, however, is that – as we know all too well – many of these roads, highways and bridges are in poor condition today. They’ve been in use far beyond the intended duration of their original design. A great many roadways and bridges simply need repaving, while some need repairs, and others need to be completely redesigned.
“According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, approximately 20 percent of our Federal-aid roadways are in poor condition, as are 47,000 bridges. That’s in large part because, for far too long, our nation’s Highway Trust Fund has been operating on the brink of insolvency. The Highway account is running an $11 billion dollar deficit, and that deficit is growing. Meanwhile, despite spending more from the Fund than we collect, we still aren’t spending enough to make a dent in the $800 billion dollar backlog of investments needed to significantly improve conditions on many of the roads, highways and bridges that millions of Americans use and depend on every day.
“All of this has contributed to an unacceptable level of uncertainty for states, cities and businesses. It has prevented us, as a nation, from addressing the serious challenges across our transportation infrastructure that go beyond filling potholes. For too long, we have failed to make meaningful progress in America toward improving safety, easing traffic congestion, reducing harmful emissions and enhancing resilience. We can do better than this, and the legislation that’s before us today – if enacted – will help put our country back on the right track. I’m excited about it, and I’m grateful to everyone who has contributed in ways both large and small to its drafting.
“While this bill will leverage badly needed investments in rebuilding our roads, highways, and bridges, it will do a lot more than that. It will help expedite the movement of people and goods throughout America. It will support the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs here, too. And, it will help alleviate some of the congestion which we face in urban and suburban parts of all 50 states areas across the country on an almost daily basis.
“America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act will help make real the vision of a safer, more connected, efficient and climate-friendly transportation system, one that will endure the test of time and keep up with the evolving demands of the world’s biggest economy. Our bill is a good start. Now, we need to build on it and make it better.
“With respect to safety, too many pedestrians and bicyclists put their lives at risk every day when they use our roadways. In 2017, there were more than 37,000 fatalities on our nation’s roadways, including approximately 7,000 non-motorized users. 37,000 fatalities! That’s more than all of the people who live in Dover, Delaware or in Laramie, Wyoming! After trending down for many years, in the last decade pedestrian deaths have increased sharply and are now at a 25-year high. In tribal communities, that fatality rate is even higher. That’s just unacceptable!
“Our legislation addresses this carnage by investing $2.5 billion in federal funds per year in safety improvements and by compelling states and cities with very high rates of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities to do their share, as well. Our legislation also expands funding for bike paths, sidewalk, and other transportation alternatives to $1.2 billion per year. It empowers states and cities to design, implement and manage those projects so they are better designed to fit the needs of those states and cities. Too many Americans simply don’t have safe places to walk or bike. In some cases, highways and high-speed roads divide cities and communities, making it hard or even impossible to safely access basic goods and services, like grocery stores or day care centers. America’s transportation infrastructure should connect us, not divide us. It should foster greater economic opportunity, not disparity.
“Our legislation seeks to improve connectivity and accessibility by establishing a pilot program for states and cities to measure access to destinations like hospitals, schools and grocery stores. Our bill also funds a program to help remove barriers such as chronically underused highways, when appropriate, that create obstacles to access and mobility.
“But an even more pressing need to address throughout America is the roads, highways and bridges that are actually over-capacity today, where cars and trucks – and their passengers – sit for hours in traffic. Last year, every American driver lost an average of 97 hours due to traffic congestion. Ninety-seven hours in one year! That’s four days! It’s not just a nuisance for drivers. Last year, it cost our country $87 billion in lost productivity. And let’s not forget that all of that time we waste sitting in our cars and trucks also degrades the quality of the air we breathe, increases the cost of our health care, and raises the cost of goods we buy. Our legislation addresses this predicament by authorizing additional funding for the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program, which has been used to build carpool lanes and support a number of other alternatives to reduce congestion.
“In addition, our legislation recognizes that in many places, it’s just not possible to build any additional lanes, so we need to address congestion by managing travel demand through innovative technology, transit, and tolling. That’s why we’ve also created a new program for our largest cities to provide new tools to help address congestion challenges.
“And that, my friends, brings us to the evermore apparent reality of climate change and its ever-worsening impact on – among other things – our infrastructure. The cars, trucks and vans that we drive have become our nation’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions, accelerating and exacerbating the effects of climate change, and bringing with it the increasingly extreme weather that we are witnessing throughout the world on an almost daily basis. Temperatures last week in Europe exceeded 110 degrees Fahrenheit. We just came off our fourth hottest years as a nation, and this year looks like 2019 may be our hottest year yet. We’ve got to do more to fight it and, with this legislation, we will!
“Mr. President, I’m proud to announce that America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act includes the first-ever climate title in a transportation bill in the history of the Congress. Our legislation calls for investing $10 billion over the next five years directly in programs and policies that will combat climate change by reducing emissions and improving the resiliency of our transportation networks and infrastructure.
“One such program is a $1 billion investment in charging and fueling stations for electric and alternative fuel vehicles in heavily traveled corridors across America. While Henry Ford’s Model-T and its internal combustion engine are an important part of our country’s transportation system, zero-emission electric vehicles represent our future. Unfortunately, in most parts of America today, drivers lack reasonable access to charging or fueling stations for electric or hydrogen-fueled vehicles. Our legislation helps address that concern by creating competitive grants for states and localities to build hydrogen, natural gas and electric vehicle charging and fueling infrastructure along many of America’s most heavily-traveled highway corridors.
“Meanwhile, increasingly frequent and extreme weather events continue to erode our transportation networks. Sea level rise threatens the structural integrity and longevity of our surface transportation infrastructure. We see that happening now in my home state of Delaware and along major portions of the East Coast and in the flooding that has occurred in the Heartland of our country. It’s been reported that some asphalt in America gets so hot, that it’s bubbling up. Try driving through that!
“Our legislation seeks to help address these threats by investing nearly $5 billion over 5 years in a new formula program available to all states and a competitive resiliency grant program. Both the formula program and the new ‘PROTECT’ Grants Program would support projects across America that reinforce, upgrade or realign existing transportation infrastructure to better withstand extreme weather events and the effects of climate change like record-setting temperatures.
“And, let me briefly mention one other thing. Through the use of natural infrastructure, like the marshes and wetlands that protect roads from storm surges during tropical cyclones and Nor’easters, our bill also helps harness the power of Mother Nature to improve the resilience of transportation projects.
“Well, colleagues, that gives you at least a glimpse of some of the exciting aspects of this legislation that our EPW Committee Chairman John Barrasso and I are introducing today. We do so with the help and input of senators from both parties and from every corner of this country. In the coming months, I look forward to sharing more stories about how America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act can tackle complicated issues, improve our daily lives and help us build the roads, highways and bridges of the future.
‘And, as bright as our chairman and I and our very able staff members like to think we are, I’m confident that our bill can be improved as it moves through the legislative process in the months ahead. As I oftentimes like to say, ‘If it isn’t perfect, let’s make it better.’ We look forward to doing just that with all of you as we go forward, beginning with tomorrow’s markup in the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
“Before I close, I would be remiss if I failed to remind everyone that the 800-pound gorilla in the room with respect to surface transportation infrastructure is almost always, ‘How are we going to pay for these improvements and programs that we all know we need?’ The fact is – as I’ve said – the Highway Trust Fund is going broke and – if we’re honest with one another – our way of paying for it is broken, too.
“So, what should we do about it? It’s important to note that our legislation will continue to fund the state-level Vehicle Miles Traveled pilot programs established in the 2015 bill. I am especially pleased, however, that our legislation also includes a national VMT pilot program, the first of its kind. I believe that user fee-based approaches are generally the best way to fund much of our nation’s surface transportation system and that Vehicle Miles Travel systems, which seek to ensure that all road users pay their fair share, are the future. In the meantime, there needs to be a bridge to that future. That bridge will not rely on a ‘silver bullet,’ but on what I refer to as a lot of ‘silver BB’s’, some of which are bigger than others.
“With that, let me conclude by reiterating that Chairman Barrasso and I look forward to working closely with our colleagues on the Senate Finance Committee – a committee on which I also serve – to ensure that this bill is responsibly paid for. I have already begun to meet with several of our colleagues on the relevant committees of jurisdiction, and I am eager to work with them and all of our colleagues as we face -- not just the daunting challenges that lie ahead of us – but the opportunities, as well.
“Winston Churchill once said, ‘You can always count on America to do the right thing in the end, after trying everything else.’ If we pull together and work together as well in Senate and House as we tend to do on the Senate EPW Committee, then we can reach that end a good deal sooner than Churchill and a lot of skeptics might otherwise expect. So why don’t we show the skeptics what we can do. A great many Americans are counting on us to do just that. Let’s not let them down.
“I want to thank my staff again, along with Chairman Barrasso and his staff, for their excellent work to date and for negotiating in good faith throughout this year. Their spirit and dogged commitment are a big part of what’s brought us to where we are today. But, we all know that the introduction of a solid bipartisan bill, even when it’s followed the next day by a successful markup in committee, is just the beginning. But it’s a good start. A very good start. One that we and our colleagues can – and I hope will -- build on, enabling us – and America – to seize the day. Carpe diem! Or, as we say in Delaware, ‘Carper diem!’