U.S. Chamber of Commerce - Surface Transportation Reauthorization Views Letter
June 18, 2012
TO THE MEMBERS OF THE H.R. 4348 CONFERENCE COMMITTEE:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business federation representing theinterests of more than three million businesses and organizations of every size, sector, and region, strongly urges that you complete work on resolving differences between the Senate- and House-passed version of the transportation reauthorization bill, H.R. 4348, and that you favorably report a conference report before highway, public transportation and safety programs expire on June 30.
Congress must build on the strong bicameral and bipartisan support for transportation reform and investment and enact thoughtful policies that will increase public trust and confidence in federal highway, transit and safety programs; help stabilize critical industries; and strengthen America’s competitive edge. While there are differences among the Senate and House legislation, there are many common elements in the major policy categories in the Senate bill, the House bill, and H.R. 7, which was reported by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, but was never voted on by the full House.
The similarities that exist among substantial parts of these bills reflect meaningful reform proposals proffered by two national commissions, as well as numerous think tanks and transportation stakeholders, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
There is much common ground from which to forge compromise.
Consolidating and Focusing Programs
Both the House and Senate are pressing for a major consolidation of federal transportation programs which number close to 90 today. The elimination of the excessive or duplicative programs, created over the last 50 years, would serve as a hallmark of this conference. Without program consolidation, unnecessary and redundant federal mandates will dilute investment in the most critical areas and among the highest priorities. Absent these reforms, funding will continue to flow inefficiently to states and metropolitan areas. However, consolidation should not preclude creation of a program or programs when it is necessary to focus on a clear Constitutional priority, such as facilitating interstate commerce.
Increasing State Flexibility
The Senate and House legislation both emphasize the need for more flexibility for the states to ensure federal dollars are spent where they are most needed. This flexibility is accomplished by devolving many of the mandated maintenance and investment decisions back to states. Instead of a one-size-fits-all program, both the House and Senate proposals would support state and local planning and investment decisions that take into account the national priorities such as congestion reduction and freight connectivity.
Increased flexibility should not come without accountability for how funds are used. To help focus transportation investments on projects that would have the greatest return to the economy, both the House and Senate call for performance-based approaches to guide the planning and project selection processes. By setting performance targets and requiring periodic progress reports from states and metropolitan planning organizations, the federal programs would help guide key outcomes, such as a reduction in fatalities and system congestion, the improvement of road and bridge conditions, and the improvement of freight movement.
Accelerating Project Delivery by Reducing Federal Bureaucracy
A necessary area of compromise to complete reauthorization of SAFETEA-LU and take advantage of the opportunity to advance significant reforms is project delivery and environmental streamlining. With the average highway project taking 13 years from start to finish, both the House and Senate proposals address speeding project delivery and saving time and money in the process. The House and Senate both reduce bureaucratic red tape, allow for early right-of-way acquisitions, expand the use of innovative contracting methods, encourage early coordination between relevant agencies to avoid delays later in the review process, consolidate environmental documentation, and strengthen dispute resolution procedures.
In particular, the Chamber believes that cutting bureaucracy should be a priority for conferees, and that the House package goes further toward this goal by eliminating duplicative and time-consuming environmental reviews, waiving red tape on emergency reconstruction of infrastructure after natural disasters, increasing flexibility to undertake project design concurrently with environmental review process, prudently limiting the scope and range of alternatives, lessening the opportunity for unnecessary reevaluation of alternatives and secondguessing of decisions made earlier in the planning and environmental review process, “defederalizing” projects with minimal federal funding, and enacting greater protections from wasteful litigation from the environmental approval of construction projects.
Improving Freight Movement
The reliable and timely movement of goods is critical to U.S. economic health. Unfortunately, the condition and capacity of the transportation system has failed to keep up with the growth in trade volume and freight movement. Congestion caused by bottlenecks threatens to choke future economic growth.
The Chamber believes the Senate-passed bill includes strong provisions to establish a freight program that would improve regional and national freight movement by targeting investments and improvements that would demonstrably facilitate the movement of freight, such as truck-only lanes, railway-highway grade separations, and improvements to freight intermodal connectors.
Improving Highway Safety
The House and Senate packages both focus on reducing the injuries and fatalities on roadways with provisions that would make significant improvements to the performance and accountability of the dedicated Highway Safety Improvement Program.
Without effective and well functioning transit systems, the United States would experience considerably exacerbated mobility and congestion problems. Huge bottlenecks would impair the ability of people and freight to move through metropolitan areas. Both the House and Senate bills would provide significant reforms that would reduce duplicative and costly federal steps in the New Starts process and would help deliver new transit projects more quickly and cost effectively. These reforms are essential to reducing the average time–ten years– it takes to deliver critical transit system projects designed to alleviate congestion. Furthermore, the House and Senate have made considerable strides to increase the amount of formula grant funding available to transit authorities.
Enhancing Research and Technology
As states and municipalities struggle with limited resources to maintain and expand roads, bridges and transit systems that are nearing the end of their useful service lives, Congress should provide incentives for harnessing the private sector’s ingenuity and the research community’s innovation in construction and operation of the transportation network. Both Senate and House proposals would encourage the use of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) enabling states and metropolitan areas to make more efficient use of finite resources and the existing infrastructure.
Expanding Public Private Partnerships and Private Participation
The Chamber is pleased that both the Senate and the House packages would expand the TIFIA program to $1 billion per year, which would provide low cost loans, loan guarantees and standby lines of credit to surface transportation projects. TIFIA efficiently leverages federal resources—for every $1 of federal budget authority, approximately $10 of federal lending is supported. TIFIA makes many projects financeable by bringing down interest costs and serving as a patient lender.
While differences remain, conferees must work to find common ground.
Although the Chamber believes that the necessary revenues to, at a minimum, maintain investment at the levels established in S. 1813 should come from a user-fee based source structure to ensure that the purchasing power of revenue sources keeps pace with inflation and is sustainable and predictable, the Chamber recognizes that such as approach lacks consensus in this Congress. However, failure to provide revenues in the final conference agreement through the end of Fiscal Year 2013 will only exacerbate uncertainty. Without this short-term solvency measure the highway, transit and safety programs will be forced to shut down in 2013, or face more than 50% cuts for highway, transit and safety programs due to a lack of funds in the Highway Trust Fund.
Therefore, the Chamber believes it would be appropriate for Congress to employ general fund resources, including spending reductions, rescissions of authority and other savings measures, in order to favorably submit a conference report with the much needed policy and funding certainty to the states, locals and the private sector provided in this legislation. The Chamber urges the conferees to reject provisions that would levy retroactive tax increases or other punitive tax increases. Furthermore, the Chamber strongly encourages the conferees to establish a road map for a long-term sustainable user-fee based revenue model in the final
The Chamber strongly urges the conferees to recognize the similarities between the House and Senate positions, find common ground where there are differences, and do so quickly. There is an opportunity to pass meaningful reforms in several areas while supporting American job growth, economic productivity, and competitiveness without adding to the deficit.
Failure to achieve a conference report would be a missed opportunity. Rather than bearing fruit, the shared policy reforms of the House and Senate packages would die on the vine and outdated and inefficient transportation laws would continue. The economic growth potential of infrastructure investment would be squandered and job losses would likely continue in the coming months and years.
The Chamber urges the House and Senate conferees to build upon the significant areas of agreement between the House and Senate packages, to forge agreement on remaining issues, and favorably report a conference report in time for it to be enacted before surface transportation programs expire June 30.
R. Bruce Josten
cc: The Members of the United States Congress