Foxx Testifies to Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

Feb. 12, 2015

The US High Speed Rail Association (USHSR) participated in the Congressional Hearing held Feb. 11 by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

This is the first in a series of hearings on a draft of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bill. Rather than a slate of witnesses, the hearing took the form of a wide-ranging dialogue between Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and committee members.

Foxx laid out the case that massive investment is needed in all types of transportation infrastructure, from tackling the huge backlog of maintenance projects to the building the new transportation systems that will provide the capacity needed to accommodate another 70 million Americans in the next 30 years.

On the maintenance side, the safety implications of a crumbling infrastructure were a big concern for both Foxx and committee members. The recent death on Washington Metro has become a national concern, shining a spotlight again on how dangerous it is to let infrastructure deteriorate. There is an $86 billion backlog of transit projects, so these systems are being starved at a time their ridership is exploding. Reference was also made to the I-35 bridge collapse near Minneapolis, and how concrete from bridges is falling on cars across the nation.  Incredibly, a quarter of the nation’s bridges are structurally deficient. The bridge repairs needed require massive funds alone. “This accumulation of short-term thinking is starting to hit us,” said Foxx. He went on to say that neglecting our infrastructure will lead to more unnecessary deaths of American citizens, as well as increased costs the longer we wait.  

However, while repairing what we have will be a huge lift, Foxx also stressed that we must also build new infrastructure. “I don’ t think we should be planning for 1956,” said Foxx. “We need to plan for 2045. The country is moving in a very different direction.” He went on to say how millennials are now more populous than the baby boomers and they are moving into city centers, using bicycles and car sharing. 

Unfortunately, some committee members searched for ways to fix crumbling infrastructure – referred to as “critical infrastructure” – by taking dedicated transit funding. Foxx pointed out however, that urban transit systems such as the subways in Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. are critical to the economy of the nation given the significance of those cities and their economic activity.

“The hearing clearly brought out the significant transportation issues facing the nation,” said Andy Kunz, USHSR president.  “We have huge repair and expansion needs, yet Congress can’t get serious and fund what the nation needs to continue operating, stay competitive, and build new for a bright future. We are calling for $20 Billion per year for the next 2 decades to build the nation’s high speed rail system. $20 Billion is 10 days of America’s defense spending.”

The hearing covered a variety of ideas to fund some of the transportation needs. There seemed to be some bi-partisan interest in the President’s proposal to give infrastructure a short-term boost by taxing off-shore corporate profits. P3s also received strong interest. Streamlining permitting processes was also covered as a way to get projects moving faster to avoid cost escalation. While USHSR believes all these approaches have merit, the only way the nation is going to move forward is with serious, sustained investment in all forms of transportation infrastructure. Representative DeFazio pointed out that the United States is investing a smaller percentage of GDP on infrastructure than many third world countries. This serious disinvestment harms businesses across America making the entire nation less efficient and less competitive than other nations that have high speed rail and advanced infrastructure.