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Letter to Transportation Secretary Chao: We Cannot Streamline Our Way Out of Our Transportation Funding Shortfall

Posted by Content Coordinator on Monday, April 17th, 2017

Washington, D.C. — On April 5th, Ranking Member of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Ranking Member of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), sent a letter to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Elaine Chao, urging her to consider proposals to increase investment in our Nation’s transportation infrastructure. The letter comes after Secretary Chao claimed that government permitting and regulation is to blame for the Nation’s failing transportation infrastructure system, not a lack of funding.

“We were disturbed to read your comments at last week’s U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) 50th Anniversary event, where, in reference to our failure to repair our Nation’s crumbling transportation system, you stated: ‘[T]he problem is not money. It’s the delays caused by government permitting processes that hold up projects for years, even decades, making them risky investments.’ More and more ‘streamlining’ is not the answer to our infrastructure crisis nor the principal roadblock,” the Members wrote.

The letter goes on to highlight a recent report, commissioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, that identified 40 economically significant transportation and water projects whose completion has been slowed or is in jeopardy. The report found that “a lack of public funding is by far the most common factor hindering the completion of transportation and water infrastructure projects.” Further, the report found that delays resulting from environmental review and permitting were identified as a challenge to completing less than a quarter of the projects.

To see DeFazio’s hearing statement, click here.

To see Norton’s hearing statement, click here.

Read the full letter below.

 

Dear Secretary Chao:

We write to encourage you to work with Congress to build consensus around real solutions to rebuild our Nation’s infrastructure. To achieve our shared goal of completing transportation projects that will bolster America’s economic competitiveness, it is essential that we work together to identify ways to provide robust increases in Federal funding for surface transportation.

We were disturbed to read your comments at last week’s U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) 50th Anniversary event, where, in reference to our failure to repair our Nation’s crumbling transportation system, you stated: “[T]he problem is not money. It’s the delays caused by government permitting processes that hold up projects for years, even decades, making them risky investments.”[1]

More and more “streamlining” is not the answer to our infrastructure crisis nor the principal roadblock. Last month, DOT’s Inspector General (IG) found that the Department has completed work on the majority of the 42 actions it was required to take to implement the streamlining provisions that Congress approved as part of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) (P.L. 112-141).[2] However, the IG found that DOT now has delayed implementing a significant number of MAP-21’s reforms because they must be revised to comply with additional streamlining provisions mandated in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) (P.L. 114-94). The IG stated that, because of the delays caused by additional FAST Act streamlining, “the Department may not achieve all of the intended benefits under MAP-21… such as accelerating project delivery, reducing costs, and ensuring that the planning, design, engineering, construction, and financing of transportation projects are done in a more efficient and effective manner.” Piling additional streamlining measures on top of each other before they can be implemented—and before we can assess their effectiveness—is not going to solve our infrastructure problems.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the overwhelming majority of Federally-assisted highway projects—90 percent—proceed under a Categorical Exclusion (CE). [3] Only four percent of projects require the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement, the most detailed review document. A recent report, commissioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, identified 40 economically significant transportation and water projects whose completion has been slowed or is in jeopardy. [4] The report found that “a lack of public funding is by far the most common factor hindering the completion of transportation and water infrastructure projects.” Further, the report found that delays resulting from environmental review and permitting were identified as a challenge to completing less than a quarter of the projects.

We cannot streamline our way out of our funding shortfall. We have introduced H.R. 1664, the “Investing in America: A Penny for Progress Act”, bipartisan legislation which would invest nearly $500 billion of new Federal funding in our surface transportation system by indexing our existing user fees on gasoline and diesel fuel.  We urge you to seriously consider this and other proposals to add real revenues for infrastructure investment, and reject efforts that primarily or exclusively consist of measures designed to streamline the environmental review process.

We stand ready to work with you to promote sustainable funding solutions that will help rebuild our Nation’s infrastructure.  Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

PETER DeFAZIO, Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Highways

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON, Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Highways

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