Graves Remarks on Beginning Legislative Negotiations for Next Historic Round of Highway Funding
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Congressman Garret Graves (South Louisiana) released the following video and statement as the U.S. House of Representatives reauthorizes the bipartisan highway and infrastructure funding bill. Graves offered these opening remarks yesterday in the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing where consideration for the landmark legislation began and continues today.
The text from the opening remarks can be found below.
Graves serves on the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, as Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Aviation, which is marking up the historic surface transportation package H.R. 2 – Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation (INVEST) in America Act. The bill would authorize federal aid for highways and transit programs as the existing infrastructure authorization expires on September 30, 2020. The next transportation surface bill passed by Congress will amend the expiring legislation, Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which passed in 2015. Graves’ co-authored and was a member of the conference that oversaw the process.
In December 2015, Graves helped to finalize negotiations on the five-year highway funding bill, the FAST Act, which included many provisions designed to address Louisiana’s traffic problems and substantial increases in federal highway funding for Louisiana. As a conferee to the landmark legislative committee, Graves’ was able to secure several items from the FAST Act.
Republican committee members are offering their own bill to H.R. 2, the Surface Transportation Advanced through Reform, Technology & Efficient Review (STARTER) Act. Click here for a list of amendments that were considered, including nearly two dozen of Graves’, for H.R. 2.
- On November 3, 2015, Graves spoke on the U.S. House Floor about the new competitive grant program and offered the amendment to prioritize projects that alleviate bottlenecks in substandard interstate systems, i.e., Interstate 10. I-10 Eastbound coming of the Mississippi River bridge is one of the only places in the country that the interstate drops down to one lane - causing unacceptable and painfully long traffic jams for motorists in the Capital Region. The amendment aimed to increase our ability to compete for these federal dollars so that we can get our roads moving.
- In October 2015, Graves introduced the provisions to promote Louisiana Highway 1 as the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee prepared to mark up the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015, a multi-year surface transportation reauthorization bill designed to increase funding and provide improvements to infrastructure projects across the country.
- The FAST Act provided a $500 million boost to Louisiana’s federal transportation funding and included the new, $1 billion annual grant program.
- Louisiana Highway 1 recently received a $135 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to construct approximately 8.3 miles of elevated highway from Leeville Bridge to Golden Meadow. Graves’ amendment to the FAST Act requires that projects which support national energy security receive priority consideration for the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant program.
- Graves first brought this national energy security idea to Secretary Elaine Chao on November 2, 2017.
- On August 30, 2018, Graves announced the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) awarded $80,699,190 in new federal funding to Louisiana to advance the I-10 interchange at Pecue Lane.
- The FAST Act also provided $100 million more in federal transportation grant funds that have resulted in the Terrace/Washington street exit reconfiguration and I-10 lane addition (Highland Road to Prairieville/Dutchtown exit). Graves spoke at the construction ceremony for the work to begin the reconfiguration of the Washington St. exit, what Graves called a game-changer and a smart fix for a stupid problem.
“Mr. Chairman, this bill is one of the reasons why I wanted to be on the Transportation Committee. I represent South Louisiana. South Louisiana is home to five of the 15 top tonnage ports in America. It’s home to one of only two places in the nation (my friend from Illinois and Louisiana) where we have six of the class-one rail lines. We have energy pipelines, we have probably the greatest mix, I know we have the largest amount of Corps of Engineers authorized projects in the nation, we drain 42 percent of the contiguous landmass – all of these issues are issues within this committee’s jurisdiction.
“There is another issue why I wanted to be on this committee and that’s because this committee gets stuff done in a bipartisan manner. You heard the Ranking Member Sam Graves go through earlier talking about the history of this committee dating back to the ISTEA bill in the early 1990s – the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act – and all of the subsequent acts that we’ve done in this committee. Every single one of them, every single one of them, have been done in a bipartisan manner.
“I want to thank the chairman of the committee for pulling together a bill that does have some resiliency measures, that does have some improvements on the use of technology, that does have some improvements on project delivery. But the best evidence that this bill just missed the mark is that last time I checked that we had over 300 amendments filed to the bill. So here we had a bill that was introduced, that was dropped on us several days ago, that was 1000 pages. We had a revised version that came out Friday afternoon that’s almost 1000 pages and then we have hundreds of amendments filed and the real indication that this bill missed the mark is that last time I looked, I think over 100 of them were Democrat amendments filed. So, it’s not just Republicans that are being relegated to the sidelines, not being brought to the table, not being asked for input – it’s Democrats as well.
“So, as Ranking Member Graves stated in his opening statement, the message is clear, the background is clear. This is Speaker Pelosi just like on coronavirus. And I hate this. These are things that shouldn’t be partisan but just like on coronavirus, introducing legislation that was thousands of pages. I think it was almost 2000 pages if I remember right. Spending over $3 trillion without input from anybody. Even Democrat Members of Congress I am talking to couldn’t tell us what was in the bill.
“This is a bipartisan issue. Mr. Chairman, it is 2020 right now. It’s 2020.
“And for those of you at home that may be distorted enough to be watching this for some reason, the way that this program works is that you go to the gas pump and you go fill up your car or your truck with gas and there’s a component of that dollar figure that’s on the pump or on the side outside that goes to the state government and the state uses that to fund their state department of transportation and their efforts and their cost-share.
“And then there is a portion that comes here and so we take those dollars, coming from the same people, just some of them go to the state and some come here, we take those dollars and we go through and we distort the rate of investment, the rate of return for taxpayers, We establish artificial priorities and we put money in these different buckets that don’t provide anywhere close to the same cost and benefit ratio as other potential investments. We require funds be spent in these certain buckets and we distort again priorities, rate of return, and we give these dollars back to the states.
“All I know is that on the ground, here we are again in 2020 and I can go sit at a traffic light and there won’t be cars anywhere and that traffic light doesn’t change because we are using technology from decades ago. I can go on Waze or Google Maps and I can pull up data that would show me the best way to get from A to B. All of that aggregated data can be used to help fundamentally transform how we do transportation planning. This could be used to communicate with traffic lights and get us through places better, faster, more efficiently using the infrastructure we already have now.
“The American Society of Civil Engineers annually does a report card and it has tracked the degrading infrastructure across this country. It is affecting every single one of us. It is affecting every person we represent.
“And this bill misses the mark. It shouldn’t be like this. We can cooperate. I will commit to sit down and cooperate and provide constructive input to make sure we can deliver a bill that truly addresses the fundamental problems in infrastructure in America and uses technology to leapfrog and get us to where we need to be.”