Opening remarks, as prepared, of Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO) from today’s hearing entitled, “The Cost of Doing Nothing: Why Investing in Our Nation’s Infrastructure Cannot Wait”:
Thank you, Chairman DeFazio. I want to reiterate that I’m looking forward to working with you and all the Members of the Committee to provide America with the modern infrastructure it needs for our growing economy.
In recent years, our two sides have worked closely to pass important legislation, including the FAST Act, an FAA reauthorization and disaster program reform law, multiple WRDA and Coast Guard laws, pipeline safety and passenger rail laws, and more.
I’m optimistic that we can carry on the bipartisan, results-driven tradition of our Committee to develop an infrastructure package, a surface transportation reauthorization, the next WRDA, and other bills. You and I have already had good conversations about working together.
It’s also extremely encouraging that, after Tuesday’s State of the Union address, we know infrastructure is a priority for the President. Republicans and Democrats in both the House and the Senate want to get something done, and the President’s leadership and eagerness for bipartisanship on this effort gives us the green light to move forward.
I must stress that we can’t waste this opportunity.
Today’s hearing on infrastructure investment is good place to start our work. Before we get underway, I want to raise several key points.
First of all, we can’t address our long-term funding issues without finally fixing the Highway Trust Fund.
We’ve kicked this can down the road so many times already, pretty soon we’re going to kick it completely off the map.
Congress is going to consider a number of options to address this problem, but I believe that the only viable future lies in a transition to a Vehicle Miles Traveled (or VMT) program.
I see this as the best way to ensure that everyone contributes to the Trust Fund and helps maintain and improve our surface transportation system. VMT is already being applied at the state level, and it’s time to pursue this solution nationally.
I want to point out that we’re not talking about Big Brother tracking our every move. Protecting Americans’ privacy is critical, and we can absolutely do a VMT program without intruding upon people’s privacy.
Another key to investing in our infrastructure for the long-term is continuing to look for ways to carry out projects more efficiently.
Time is money, so any delay in the project delivery process consumes valuable and limited resources that could be used for other potential improvements. Streamlining project delivery – while continuing to protect the environment – is a priority for the Administration, and it will continue to be a priority for me.
Finally, I want to stress that America will never have the infrastructure system it needs and deserves if we don’t do a better job of incorporating technology. Compared to other countries, our infrastructure is falling behind, and in some cases falling apart.
Technology is rapidly developing, but our infrastructure doesn’t always reflect those advancements. That needs to change.
There is tremendous potential for technology to make our infrastructure safer and less costly, reduce congestion, improve the efficiency of the entire network, and even alleviate the growing demands on our infrastructure.
In his address on Tuesday, I was happy to hear the President recognize the necessity for technology to be part of our long-term infrastructure solution.
However, as we look to integrate technology, safety has to remain the top priority. As we know, an accident or setback opens the door for the federal government to come in with the heavy hand of regulation – potentially stifling innovation. We have to strike the right balance between private sector ingenuity and safety regulation.
Fundamentally, we can’t overlook the importance of technology in the context of an infrastructure package or any other legislation.
I agree with Chairman DeFazio that we can’t afford to do nothing. But we also can’t afford to miss this opportunity to unleash innovation in a way that can slingshot our infrastructure, and our economy, into the future.
We have a number of witnesses here today that represent the traditional infrastructure stakeholder community, and I’m interested to hear their input.
I have one request as we start this discussion – let’s not be short-sighted in the solutions we propose. With any legislation that comes out of Congress – whether that’s an infrastructure package, a surface transportation reauthorization, or other bills – we can’t just think of it as “business as usual.” Some of our federal infrastructure programs do work well, but in others we’ve clearly fallen behind.
It’s time to be transformative in our approach, because the future of our infrastructure depends on it.