Senator James Inhofe
Congressional Record: 114th Congress
July 21, 2015
Mr. INHOFE. Mr. President, we are going to be moving to the highway bill. In fact, we are going to have the motion to proceed today at 2:15 p.m., and I think it is important that people realize the significance of this.
We do a lot of work around here that is not really critical. There are some issues that are. If you would like to read the Constitution sometime when you have nothing else to do, it will tell you that what we are supposed to be doing are two things: defending America and roads and bridges. That is what it says in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. So anytime you are sitting around with nothing to do, you ought to read it, and you will realize that what we are going to do at 2:15 today is very significant.
Passing a long-term transportation reauthorization bill has been my top priority since I resumed the office of the chairmanship of the Environment and Public Works Committee. It is probably the second most important thing we do, second only to the Defense authorization bill.
In the first hearing we had in January, we had Secretary Foxx, the Secretary of Transportation, who is an outstanding Secretary. He is just as concerned about this as we are. Senator Boxer and I brought in Secretary Foxx as well as local government leaders to share the importance of ongoing Federal and State partnerships in maintaining the modern surface infrastructure system. Since that time, my committee has put forward a bipartisan bill called the DRIVE Act. It is significant, and it is not partisan. There is no such thing as a Democratic bridge or a Republican bridge or a Democratic road or a Republican road.
Historically, Republicans have been recognized as leading in this area, from way back in the days when President Lincoln spearheaded the Transcontinental Railroad; Teddy Roosevelt and the Panama Canal; and, of course, the Interstate Highway System, created by President Eisenhower.
President Eisenhower recognized that weakened defense and interstate commerce made our Nation vulnerable to the world. In 1952, when he proposed the Interstate Highway System, he commented that this was every bit as much about defending America as it was about the economy and being able to transport commerce around the States. In laying out the full interstate system, he envisioned it to be the physical backbone of the economy, fueling the growth of our GDP, our cities, and the competitiveness of our exports. This vision and certainty maximized the economic and mobility benefits of the system. Businesses and individuals knew that they could locate somewhere on the future interstate system and be connected to not just the rest of the country but the rest of the world.
This legacy system, which was built over 50 years ago, had a design life of 50 years, and it has actually been over 60 years--close to 70 years since it was built. We are beyond our warranty period, and we are in serious danger of eroding half a century of investments without proper maintenance, modernization, and reconstruction. We are on borrowed time with a system that is in full need of restoration. Our national interstate system currently has a maintenance backlog of $185 billion on about 47,000 miles of interstate, and that is just to bring it back to the design it was in 1956.
Maintaining Eisenhower's vision of economic opportunity and strength in defense requires a continued partnership between the Federal Government and the States, which is the hallmark of the DRIVE Act. Yet, due to 33 short-term patches since 2005--I have to say this because this is significant. We should be operating on a transportation reauthorization system all the time. The last one we did was in 2005. I was the author of it, in fact. That was a 5-year bill. Since that time, we have gone through some 30 different short-term extensions. A short-term extension doesn't do any good. A transportation reauthorization bill is needed in order to accomplish all the reforms that are necessary and to have time to handle the major, large problems we have to deal with.
Passing a long-term bill is crucial to many aspects of day-to-day life in America. More than 250 million vehicles and 18 billion tons--valued at $17 trillion--in goods traverse across the country every year. Yet every day 20,000 miles of our highways slow below the posted speed limits or experience stop-and-go conditions. The National Highway System is only 5.5 percent of the Nation's total roads, but it carries 55 percent of all vehicle traffic and 97 percent of the truck-borne freight. We are talking about 97 percent of the freight on only 5 percent of the highways.
Congress just passed a 2-month extension. Now we have a responsibility to pass a long-term bill.
The highway trust fund currently needs $15 billion a year to maintain the current spending. When we started out with the highway trust fund, that was a percentage every year. When someone would drive up and pay a tax when buying gas, that was supposed to be for taking care of the highways--and it did.
I can remember when I was serving in the House. The biggest problem we had at that time was we had too much money in the highway trust fund. We had more than we needed. I remember when President Clinton came in. He wanted to rob the highway trust fund for all of his programs. He got by with it for a while. That is not the problem anymore. The problem now is there is not enough money.
The situation has changed. People are not using as much fuel. So we have fallen short by $15 billion a year of having the amount of money necessary to continue today's spending level. That is $15 billion a year. This is a 6-year bill. That means about $90 billion is needed in excess of the amount of money, revenue, that is derived from the highway trust fund.
The DRIVE Act--that is what we call this--will put America back on the map as the best place to do business. The DRIVE Act has several key components that position America's transportation system to support our growing economy. It prioritizes funding for core transportation formula programs to provide States and local governments with a strong Federal partner. It prioritizes the Interstate Highway System, that national highway system, and the bridges at risk for funding shortfalls.
It creates a new multibillion-dollar-per-year freight program to help States deliver projects and promotes the safe and efficient transportation of goods. It targets funds for major projects in the community, such as shown right here. This is a picture of the Brent Spence Bridge I have in the Chamber. This goes from Kentucky to Ohio and actually takes transportation also to Indiana. This is a very old bridge. You can see it is going to have to be replaced.
These are the huge things you cannot do with short-term extensions. You are going to have to have a major bill, such as the one we are having right now.
Lastly, the DRIVE Act provides greater efficiency in the project delivery process, reforms that put DOT in the driver's seat during the NEPA process by requiring agencies to bring all the issues to the table, keeping them under a deadline, and eliminating duplication.
One of the problems we have with the environmental requirements is they end up delaying projects. So this bill gives exceptions. Let me say that I was very proud of Senator Boxer. Senator Boxer is a very proud liberal. I am a very proud conservative. One of the few things we agree on is the highway bill. It does require some changes that allow them to go ahead and keep working in spite of some of the NEPA requirements or the environmental requirements. This gives bridge projects special consideration, with new exemptions from section 4(f), the historic property reviews for concrete and steel bridges--a new exemption from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for bridges in serious condition.
Now, this sounds kind of off the wall, but one of the problems is the swallows. The swallows go in there and they block--they nest in there. So we are supposed to be repairing bridges. The swallow is not an endangered species. It is not listed, but the Migratory Bird Treaty Act does give them protection, and this waives that in the case of bridge construction. It also enforces greater transparency for Federal funds to show the taxpayers where the money is being spent.
This is just a brief overview of the bill. As the DRIVE Act progresses on the floor, I intend to address the significance of each program in more detail. The most important point I must address about the DRIVE Act is that our bill sets funding levels for the next 6 years.
There is, at the very least, what the Federal Government should provide, so States, local officials, and the construction industry can gear up for the large $500 million to $2 billion major highway projects and bridge projects so we can get them off the ground. They have to get ready for it. That is what this bill does. Thousands of projects across the Nation are currently in jeopardy, and construction will come to a halt unless legislation becomes a reality.
Future projects like--let's go back. You saw already the Brent Spence Bridge in Kentucky. There is also the $2.6 billion Mobile River Bridge in Alabama. This is a projection of what it will look like. This is as it is today. This would be impossible without something like a 6-year bill. In DC, the Memorial Bridge is literally crumbling into the Potomac. People do not understand what happens to these bridges. You can see--in our case in Oklahoma, we had a bridge over I-35. In the year 2005, as a part of that bill, that legislation, we were able to repair it. In 2004, right before that took place, one of the chunks came off--just like you are seeing here on the bridge--and actually killed a young lady who was driving under it with her three children. That is how serious this is. This is the Arlington Memorial Bridge. It was built in 1932. Something has to be done with that. We will be able to do projects like this.
More than just a small part of the economic success enjoyed by the United States over the past 50 years has been the Interstate System. Today, we literally sit at the crossroads of its future. The solution is urgent. This is why Senator Boxer and I are bringing the DRIVE Act to the Senate floor as a solution. It will ensure that States have the tools and the certainty to make the necessary new investments to rebuild Eisenhower's vision, to fight growing congestion, to maintain the mobility of goods and services necessary to keep the economy going. By passing the DRIVE Act, Congress will be able to take pave the way for the next 50 years of American excellence in infrastructure.
I have to say this. The importance of this is that the only alternative is to have short-term extensions. I am talking about 1- and 2-month extensions, of which you cannot organize your labor. The cost of that--and by the way, I say this to my conservative friends--they will be friends, and I can say this, since I have been ranked as the most conservative Member of this body many times--that the conservative position is not to oppose this massive highway bill that we are going to have but to oppose the short-term extensions. It costs about 30 percent more for a short-term extension than it does for a highway reauthorization bill. That is why this is so important.
Later on, I am going to go over many of the other bridges and structures around that are going to have to be addressed. In the meantime, this is something we are supposed to do. I kind of will end up where we started off; that is, there is an old document that nobody reads anymore called the Constitution. You go back and read that, you will find out what we in this body are supposed to be doing. It is defending America and it is providing bridges and roads.
So as we progress on this, there will not be time to go into any more detail now because we have Members wanting to come down and use both the Republican and Democratic time between now and the noon hour, but at 2:15 we are going to have a motion we will be voting on to move to the consideration of this bill. It doesn't say you have to be for it or against it or you want to change it.
If you want to have amendments, you have to get to the bill before you can have amendments. So a motion-to-proceed vote will take place at 2:15. Now, I want to tell all of the Members who are out there that if you have amendments--we are going to try to knock this thing out in 2 weeks. We are going to be down here talking about it for 2 weeks. But if you have amendments, if you want a chance to offer your amendments, you can offer them, but bring them down, file your amendments. If you do not do that, we will pass a deadline and you will not be able to do that. So I encourage our Members to do that. I look forward to the next 2 weeks of discussing and passing the second most significant bill we will consider this year.
I yield the floor.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
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