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Senator Murray Pushes DOT Secretary LaHood on Ferries, 2010 Transportation Budget

Jun 18 2009

Chairing committee hearing, Murray also probes LaHood on plans for the impending bankruptcy of the Highway Trust Fund

LISTEN to Senator Murray’s opening statement
WATCH hearing 

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, questioned Secretary LaHood on details of the Department of Transportation’s 2010 budget request.

Senator Murray questioned Secretary LaHood on the Department’s commitment to ferries, as well as his plans for the impending bankruptcy of the Highway Trust Fund, both issues critical to Washington state’s commuters, communities, and economy.

Support for Ferries

Senator Murray has been a leader in the Senate in pushing for stronger support for ferries, and in April she introduced a bill that would dramatically increase federal support for the country’s ferry systems and direct millions of dollars to ferry systems in Washington state.

Senator Murray:  “I wanted to know if, in the next authorization, you’ll support me in helping making our ferry system better supported within the authorization?”

Secretary LaHood:  “Absolutely, and the money that was in the economic recovery for that program is well over-subscribed, so there’s a lot of interest in this, there’s no question about it.”

Impending Bankruptcy of Highway Trust Fund

Senator Murray also pushed Secretary LaHood on the need to come up with real solutions to the looming bankruptcy of the Highway Trust Fund, which would imperil Washington state transportation grants.

Senator Murray: “The most pressing problem we face today is the looming bankruptcy of the Highway Trust Fund.  The trust fund needs an estimated five to seven billion dollars before August of this year, or we may see transportation projects come to a standstill.  State budgets will be thrown into crisis, and thousands of family-wage jobs will be put in jeopardy. In addition, the Highway Trust Fund needs another eight to ten billion dollars to support transportation programs through fiscal year 2010.  As this subcommittee develops its bill for funding programs at the Department of Transportation, we cannot allow the stability of the Highway Trust Fund to be called into question.  The stakes are too high for our states, communities, families, and commuters.”

Senator Murray’s opening statement (as prepared for delivery) follows:

“This subcommittee will come to order. I want to welcome back Secretary Ray LaHood. Thank you for being here today.

“In April of this year, Secretary LaHood testified before this committee about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. And I am excited to say that the billions of dollars included for transportation projects are flowing into communities across the country.

“In my home state of Washington, over 500 million dollars is beginning to move into projects from Seattle to Spokane—creating jobs and boosting the economy.

“Today, though, we’re going to focus on the President’s fiscal year 2010 budget request for the Department of Transportation, which is critical as we face the challenge of rebuilding our country’s transportation infrastructure.  And I am glad to see that the President’s budget request reflects a renewed interest in improving the entire transportation system, and it recognizes that it takes many different modes of transportation to create an integrated, national system. 

“The President’s budget request includes more than $51 billion for highways and transit, $1 billion dollars to continue the investments in high speed rail that were started in the recovery act, $3.5 billion for airport investments, $1.5 billion for grants to Amtrak,  $175  million to protect essential air service for smaller communities across the country, and $15 million dollars for a new initiative with the Department of Homeland Security to improve the security, efficiency, and capacity of our nation’s ports and waterways.

“I also want to acknowledge the work that Secretary LaHood is doing in coordination with Secretary Donovan at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Their partnership is an important first step toward helping communities make vital connections between workplaces, family homes, and neighborhood schools. And although I am glad to see important investments being made in the President’s budget, I am also painfully aware that we have tough questions to answer this year. 

 “We cannot face these challenges with ideas alone. We must start talking about concrete, real-life solutions.

 “The most pressing problem we face today is the looming bankruptcy of the Highway Trust Fund.  The trust fund needs an estimated five to seven billion dollars before August of this year, or we may see transportation projects come to a standstill, state budgets thrown into crisis, and thousands of family-wage jobs put in jeopardy.

“In addition, the Highway Trust Fund needs another eight to ten billion dollars to support transportation programs through fiscal year 2010. 

“As this subcommittee develops its bill for funding programs at the Department of Transportation, we cannot allow the stability of the Highway Trust Fund to be called into question.  The stakes are too high for our states, communities, families, and commuters.

“Yesterday, the Department announced a general framework for extending transportation programs for 18 months, enacting major reforms to those programs, and ensuring the short-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund.  By offering this framework, the Department’s announcement is a step in the right direction. 

“However, critical details are still missing.  The Department has not offered specific ways to replenish the balances of the Highway Trust Fund.  Furthermore, the Department’s announcement offers very little insight into how it proposes to use cost-benefit analysis, focus investments in metropolitan areas, and promote the concept of livability. 

“Although the Department is interested in tying together a short term fix for the Highway Trust Fund with reforms to our transportation programs, I have serious concerns about this approach. 

“I do not oppose on principle the effort to improve federal transportation programs, but we cannot allow debates over these reforms to prevent us from saving the Highway Trust Fund in a timely manner.

“The time has come to discuss specific solutions to the shortfall, and these discussions will require Congress to work closely with the administration.  But this work requires more clarity and better communication than we have been getting from the Administration so far.

“Another area of concern for this subcommittee is the safety of our air transportation system.  Although air transportation continues to be one of the safest ways of traveling, the crash of Colgan flight 3407 is a reminder that the regulations, inspections, and procedures of the Federal Aviation Administration are all in the service of protecting human life.

“The FAA recently announced that it is requiring its safety inspectors to focus their efforts on determining if regional air carriers are complying with federal requirements for pilot training.

“But the crash near Buffalo, New York, also raises important questions about FAA requirements related to pilot fatigue and qualifications, and about the relationship between legacy and regional air carriers.

“I understand that earlier this week, the Department and the FAA gathered representatives from air carriers and other industry groups to participate in a summit on airline safety.  This summit was designed to address many different aspects of aviation safety, and I will be interested to hear what you have learned from this meeting. 

“Finally, I would like to express my concerns about the Administration’s proposal for a national infrastructure bank.  Investing in our infrastructure is critical, but we need to ensure that it’s financed responsibly.

“Whether this bank is requested from funds appropriated by this Committee, or included in a proposal for the reauthorization of surface transportation programs, I think that there are many unanswered questions that need to be addressed.

“Again, Secretary LaHood, thank you for appearing before us today to provide some additional detail and insight into the President’s budget request for the Department of Transportation. I would now like to recognize my partner and Ranking Member, Senator Bond, for any opening remarks he would like to make.”