News Releases


Good morning and welcome to all of you.

I’ve called this field hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury and General Government to bring together stakeholders and to address the transportation problems affecting the Southwest Washington/Metropolitan Portland region.

Today we’ll examine current and future transportation challenges, and how our solutions can improve our economy, our safety, and quality of life. This morning, we’ll hear from elected officials, regional representatives, along with labor and business interests.

I want to thank all of the witnesses for participating today. We could not accommodate all of the leaders who wanted to testify, but we certainly do want input from anyone who’d like to share their thoughts.

I’m going to keep the committee record of this hearing open for 15 days. If you’d like to submit a statement as part of these proceedings, please speak with Dale Learn of my staff.

I especially want to welcome and thank Senator Mark Hatfield, the former Chairman of both the Full Appropriations Committee and the Transportation Subcommittee, for taking time out of his schedule to testify today. Senator Hatfield is uniquely qualified to speak to this region’s transportation infrastructure. We have many transportation assets here, and frankly, most of them are products of Senator Hatfield’s work.

Whether it’s the Columbia River system or Portland’s nationally-recognized light rail system, these economic assets are a legacy of his public service. Senator Hatfield worked to bring people together to address the current needs and to plan for the future. We have all benefited from his wise approach, and it’s one that I hope we can follow today.

Let me put this hearing in context. Next month in Washington, D.C., I will help write the Senate’s transportation appropriations bill. I will use what I learn here today to make sure that what we do in the Senate reflects the needs and priorities here on the ground.

We should all recognize that it will not be possible to fund every request. In fact, the budget allocation for this Subcommittee is already $300 million below what the President has requested. Because resources are so limited, I want to ensure that whatever we do, we are meeting the region’s highest transportation priorities.

The information we assemble today will help me and the Subcommittee assemble the Senate’s transportation budget for Fiscal Year 2004. In addition to that appropriations bill, in the near future Congress will update the six-year surface transportation reauthorization act - known as TEA-21. I’ll be working on that with Representatives Baird, Blumenauer, and DeFazio, who are on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Senator Ron Wyden, who sits on the Senate highway authorization committee.

Again, I want to ensure that those federal efforts meet the needs here in the community. So please know that whether you’re testifying today or submitting your comments next week, your input will help me develop a transportation bill that’s responsive to the needs of the region.

Let me highlight a few of the challenges we’re going to examine today and then touch on a few proposals.

The Southwest Washington/Metropolitan Portland region has been growing at a tremendous rate. Today, 1.9 million people live here, but that number is expected to grow to 2.4 million by 2020. That growth is already straining the region’s transportation infrastructure.

If we don’t improve the infrastructure soon, we’re going to see increased congestion across all modes of transportation. That will have a painful impact on the region’s economy, productivity, and quality of life. Unless we act, the price of goods and services will increase, and jobs will be lost.

This region is one of the nation’s most trade-dependent, and that reliance on trade is increasing. For example, we expect a 123 percent increase in import-export freight tonnage by 2020. Domestic freight tonnage will increase by 76 percent. Currently, Oregon and Washington export $45 billion in products each year. As a percentage of the region’s economy, that’s about twice the national average.

Of course, the region also has several major deep water seaports, a large international airport, significant up-river barging on the Columbia River, two transcontinental rail lines, and extensive industrial space.

Overall, there is enormous potential for growth and economic development. However -- without significant planning and investment -- the already-congested freeways, rail lines, seaports, and airports will become even more backed up. For example, on the I-5/Columbia River corridor, we can expect vehicle traffic to increase by 44 percent by 2020. Unless we act, the peak congestion period – which today lasts 4 hours – will expand to 10 hours. Truck routes on the I-5 corridor would see the annual vehicle hours of delay soar by 93 percent [from 13,400 hours in 2000 to 25,800 hours by 2020]. We’d see similar congestion problems at our seaports, rail yards and other important highways like I-205. And the impact would extend far beyond the region itself.

This area is home to some of the nation’s most significant lumber, wood, and paper industries. Six Washington and Oregon counties ranked among the top 10 wheat-growing counties in the entire nation. They rely on safe, reliable and efficient rail and barge transportation. We know that the world’s grain markets are very competitive. If the rail links to our Columbia River ports are not efficient, then American growers will lose out.

Other important industries in the region depend on reliable and efficient transportation such as: transportation equipment; farm and food products; distribution and warehousing; and high-tech companies. For example, Intel is one of the world’s largest microchip manufacturers and is Oregon’s largest private employer. Without a cost-effective means of shipping their products to PDX, costs would increase, and jobs would be lost.

So in every transportation mode and every regional industry, we’ve got to take the right steps now to address the coming growth, and that’s why we’re holding today’s hearing. Wise transportation investments will improve our economy, our productivity and our quality of life.

Before I turn to our witnesses, I want to note that we do have a strong partnership and record of success to build on. This region and the two states are already taking innovative steps to deal with congestion, which I look forward to learning more about today. The two states’ departments of transportation, local and regionally-elected officials, planning organizations, business and labor – on both sides of the river – have come together to analyze, discuss, and plan our regional transportation solutions. The federal government will be a partner in helping the Southwest Washington/Portland Metropolitan region. As the former Chairman -- and now the Ranking Member of this Subcommittee -- I have been proud to fund projects on both sides of the river.

Many of you worked on the I-5 Columbia River Corridor improvement study. It received over $7 million in federal funding. Several highway projects on I-205, I-5 and the roads feeding these highways have received federal earmarks. Transit projects run by C-Tran and Tri-Met have received funding. In fact, the Interstate MAX Light Rail system has received $140 million over the last two years. Portland International, the seaports, and other marine safety programs have also received support from my Subcommittee recently. So we do have a record of progress to build on today.

I especially want to praise the work of our state governments. Despite the tough budget period, they have stepped up to the plate and dedicated billions of dollars to infrastructure improvements.

I want to end by saying that everyone in this room has a role to play in improving the economic viability and livability of the region, and I’m looking forward to working with all of you.

Now let me welcome our first panelist - Senator Hatfield. As the former Chairman of both the Full Senate Appropriations Committee and the Transportation Subcommittee, I know that his experience and understanding will be very helpful to our work.