U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
Remarks as prepared for delivery
MOVING TOWARD REAUTHORIZATION
This is an opportune time for me to be speaking to you -- today the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is marking up its reauthorization bill.
As you know, major Federal legislation for highway surface transportation programs has endured 17 anxious months of temporary extensions. During those 17 months, highway, safety and other programs have been stuck in a state of financial uncertainty. Meanwhile, congestion continues to grow in our cities, suburbs and exurban areas, with ever-increasing consequences for our economy.
That's why the most important business during your legislative meeting is not hearing from Mary Peters. The most important business is your meetings on the Hill with House and Senate leaders and their senior staff.
Completing a multi-year reauthorization bill is important to Congressional leadership, important to AASHTO and important to the Administration, and we all need to commit to making it happen. Everyone needs to commit to getting a bill.
Most important, we need the right bill, with the right funding and the right policy. And we need it now.
WHAT THE ECONOMY NEEDS
The Bush Administration's $284 billion proposal, SAFETEA, represents a 35 percent funding increase over TEA-21, the last six-year reauthorization bill. This record-setting funding provides an historic level of investment for roads, bridges and transit systems.
Our proposal directs funding where it's needed most.
I know that safety is the top priority for all of you. It is for the U.S. Department of Transportation as well.
Those are some of the key elements of SAFETEA.
What our bill does not promote are the earmarks that have grown enormously in recent years. Earmarks restrict flexibility in meeting LOCAL construction and safety priorities. I've heard from many state leaders on this subject. You say you're glad to have the money, but not the restrictions and set-asides.
I hope Congress can resist the temptation toward earmarking, which ties up scarce resources and deprives state and local governments of desperately needed autonomy.
One more thought on reauthorization . . .
The funding level is important, to be sure, and the President is committed to a record-setting level. But reauthorization is not just about the money. It's crucial that we have the right policy. All the money in the world would not be good enough if it can't be used in the way you need to use it.
DIVERSIFY FUNDING SOURCES
A few minutes ago, I mentioned tolling as a key provision in the Bush Administration proposal.
We need to diversify our highway-funding portfolio, and road pricing should be part of the way we look at highway and bridge financing in the future. Pricing encourages private investment, spurs innovation, and can dramatically reduce congestion.
It is not an option that will work everywhere. But, we must explore pricing as part of a menu of options to meet our nation's future transportation needs.
WE SERVE THE PEOPLE
Our goal in the Bush Administration is to make it safer, easier and less expensive to move travelers and freight across the highway network. We know that our transportation network represents a major competitive advantage for the United States, and is a leading indicator of the health of our economy.
To keep our healthy economy, we need the right bill and we need it now.
I hope in the coming weeks that Congress will focus on the need for states to have much more flexibility, autonomy and responsibility, including the ability to engage in public private partnerships and various forms of innovative financing.
Even in this room, we have differences in what our ideal bill will look like. When you get down to discussing a specific difficult issue, say one we've been struggling with for 17 months . . . Please keep this in mind -- --
The ultimate beneficiaries of our work are the American people -- the good folks who use the system every day to get to work, to school, to relax and have fun with their families.
We serve the people who do the nation's work.
AASHTO, Federal Highways -- the entire transportation community -- needs to commit our time and effort to completing a multi-year reauthorization bill. We need a surface transportation bill that keeps America on the move.