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11th Annual Transportation Summit, Remarks
Opening Remarks by Carol Hallett
Of Counsel, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
As prepared for delivery
August 14, 2008
Thank you very much. I'm pleased to have the opportunity to discuss an issue that is at
the top of the U.S. Chamber's policy agenda.
It was at this very conference one year ago that U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom
Donohue unveiled the Chamber's Let's Rebuild America initiative to raise the visibility
of the nation's infrastructure crisis and to highlight the urgent need for increased
Why did we choose Texas for the rollout, and why are we back again this year for more
discussion? Because, quite simply, Texas is a microcosm of a national challenge that we
have neglected for far too long.
By 2030, Texas' population is expected to rise to 35 million, an increase of 12 million
people. During that same period, road use will increase by more than 200%, and highway
freight traffic will jump by 77%. Texas needs $86 billion more than it has to meet this
I can assure you that private and public sector leaders all over this nation are struggling
with the same issues. They are dealing with congestion and the air quality issues that it
presents, lost productivity, and lost economic opportunity due to infrastructure that is
outdated and under a tremendous about of stress as user demand increases.
Let's Rebuild America is the Chamber's program to develop a consensus and build
support for commonsense solutions to the infrastructure crisis. This effort is not limited to
transportation infrastructure. The nation's water, energy and telecommunications
networks are also showing their age and are contributing to soaring energy prices and the
threat to America's competitive advantage in technology.
Briefly, I'd like to talk about Let's Rebuild America in the context of transportation
infrastructure. We have five objectives in this area.
First, document the crisis. To influence policy, we need to present a set of facts that
truthfully and candidly assesses the state of our infrastructure. Earlier this year, the
Chamber and its Americans for Transportation Mobility Coalition—a group of business,
labor, and transportation industry interests with a focused mission of increasing highway
and transit funding—released a comprehensive report linking transportations challenges
to America's competitiveness.
We've commissioned the RAND Corporation Supply Chain Policy Center to issue
another report later this year to further highlight the capacity crisis. We're making sure
that these reports get into the hands of decision makers and opinion leaders.
Second, we have to educate. We have our work cut out for us. The hard truth is that
when many people hear the word "infrastructure," their eyes start to glaze over.
Infrastructure is not a sexy issue. It doesn't capture the media's attention like it should.
Few candidates make it the centerpiece of their campaign. And it regularly gets bumped
down legislators' lists of priorities.
By leveraging its membership of nearly 3,000 state and local chambers and millions of
businesses, the Chamber is making the case for infrastructure investment through an
aggressive communications program and strong grassroots network.
Our third objective is to unlock private investment. There are rules, regulations, and
policies that have locked up potentially hundreds of millions of private investment just
waiting to be spent on critically needed projects.
But just as important as dealing with law and policy is the need to gain greater acceptance
of public private partnerships. Private partners have to see their role as more than just
delivering a big check.
They must recognize that the partnership's larger objective is to help government provide
a transportation benefit to the public.
For its part, the public sector must recognize that aside from financing, public-private
partnerships have the benefit of fostering long-term collaboration and a holistic approach
to delivering infrastructure.
Our fourth objective is to expand public revenue and financing options. More
resources are required – plain and simple. There's no free lunch.
The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission estimates
that the United States must invest $225 billion per year from all sources over the next 50
years to maintain and adequately enhance just our surface transportation systems.
We are spending less than 40% of this amount.
Every funding option should be on the table, including even an increase in the federal
gasoline user tax, which has not been raised in 14 years.
I know you might think it's a crazy time to suggest this with gasoline near $4 per gallon.
But I'm not running for office, so I actually get to tell you the truth. And the truth is that
sooner or later, we're going to have to face up to the resources question—if we want a
superior and safe infrastructure and a competitive American economy.
Finally, we need to be selective about projects and reduce wasteful spending.
We need to support a comprehensive multi-modal and intermodal transportation
infrastructure vision. This means prioritizing and making tough spending decisions based
on actual need instead of politics.
The last surface transportation reauthorization bill contained earmarks totaling nearly $15
billion for some 5,000 pet projects. Earmarking in and of itself is not necessarily a bad
thing, but we need to make sure that federal earmarks serve the national good.
There is something terribly wrong with the system when hundreds of millions of dollars
are earmarked for the construction of a bridge to nowhere in Alaska while critical
projects in major metropolitan areas are neglected.
Even worse is when federal transportation funds are diverted to rain forests in Iowa,
theater restorations in New York, and interpretive signage and trails in Pittsburgh urban
parkland while projects to alleviate traffic congestion or to connect rural communities to
urban areas struggle to identify resources.
We also have to move quicker. Bureaucratic red tape is a major problem.
We've allowed governments to pile on complex and overlapping regulations that stretch
project delivery times to 13 years on average.
Let me wrap up by saying that some tough choices about infrastructure investment must
be made – now, not another five or ten years down the road – and the business
community needs to be at the table.
Next year of course, Congress will take up the surface transportation reauthorization bill.
This presents an opportunity to broaden the debate and push a more comprehensive set of
solutions to the infrastructure crisis that confronts us.
The Chamber will be on the front lines in this debate, and we welcome you to join our
effort. Thank you very much.