Hearing on Pending Nominations

Prepared Testimony of Ms. Nuria I. Fernandez
Federal Transit Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation

9:30 a.m., Thursday, May 11, 2000

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee; it is indeed an honor and a privilege to appear before you today as you consider my nomination to be Administrator of the Federal Transit Administration. I appreciate your warm welcome and your expeditious scheduling of this hearing.

And thank you, Senator Sarbanes, for that gracious introduction. You, the Chairman and the members of this Committee have always demonstrated your

commitment to wise investments in our nation's mass transit systems as an effective means of meeting the mobility needs of the American people.

Mr. Chairman, before I begin I would like to introduce some special people, my Mom and Dad. My wonderful family has been a constant source of strength and inspiration. I am grateful for their support and encouragement over the years as well as that of so many dear friends who have joined me this morning.

For seven years, I had the honor of serving some of the nation's finest mass transit agencies first in Chicago, where I was Senior Vice President for Development and Construction at Chicago Transit Authority, then here in Washington, as Assistant General Manager at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. I have been privileged to serve the public at the Department of Transportation, first in the Budget and Programs Office and, since July of 1997, as Deputy Federal Transit Administrator.

Mr. Chairman, I am deeply honored that the President nominated me to serve as Federal Transit Administrator. I am also most appreciative of the confidence that Secretary Slater has placed in me. My pledge to them, to each Member of this Committee and the Congress, and to the American people, is that if confirmed I will provide the best possible leadership and management to serve the public interest by ensuring safe, cost-effective, accessible and convenient mass transit services.

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, our nation's public mass transportation system is in better shape than it has been in decades, thanks to the effective partnerships established among the Administration, the Congress, state and local government bodies and America's transit agencies. Today, we see:

More miles of rail transit under construction than at any time since Woodrow Wilson was President,

America's communities, recognizing the growing importance of providing effective transit services, more fully participating in these investments with a greater share of local funding, currently averaging 45 per cent of the total project cost for recently proposed new starts;

Improved bus transportation not only in the nation's large cities but also in many small urban and rural communities. From 1993 to 1998 rural transit ridership nearly doubled. Without transit, many citizens would have no means to access shopping, health care and educational opportunities; and

A new milestone - recognizing that for the first time since the beginning of the Federal mass transit assistance program under President Kennedy, more than nine billion riders used subways, buses, light rail and commuter trains in 1999!

The Congress and the Administration together - first in ISTEA, then renewed and enhanced in TEA-21 - have recognized and fully appreciated the benefits of public mass transportation as a strategic investment essential to strengthening America for the challenges of the 21st Century. Thanks to these investments we are mitigating the impact of traffic congestion, improving air quality, providing basic mobility for millions of Americans and helping to build a better life in our cities, suburbs and rural communities.

If confirmed, I will continue to work hard with this Committee and the Congress to take those benefits to even more Americans in a number of very specific ways. Mr. Chairman and Members, I would like to take just a few minutes to outline several of those efforts.

Safety on America's transit systems is my first goal, just as safety is the Secretary's and the Administration's top goal. Public transit has long provided one of the safest forms of travel, and we continue to strive, with notable success, to improve on that record. During the six-year period ending in 1998, the fatality rate declined by 7.5 percent, better even than our goal. And, during that same period, transit injuries were reduced 7.9 per cent and incidents such as vehicle collisions were down more than 19 per cent.

Continuous improvement of our safety record will remain my number one objective if confirmed. I have and will continue to focus on steps to improve safety in railroad corridors where transit passenger trains and light rail share the right-of-way with freight railroads in our new starts projects, including incorporating state safety oversight activities in the preliminary engineering and pre-revenue service safety review. I will continue to work with the industry in developing standards for light and heavy rail vehicles, and with the new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on issues related to transit motor bus and school bus safety.

Mr. Chairman, thanks to the work of this Committee, the record levels of funding for transit new starts provided in the guaranteed authorization are enabling communities to plan and get started on long-hoped-for projects and system expansion programs. The New Starts Report submitted two months ago lists 12 projects recommended for new full funding grant agreements and another 32 projects far enough along in their development to be well positioned for future funding consideration. There remain many other potentially worthwhile projects that continue to progress through the evaluation and rating process.

While we have made great strides in funding new transit projects in recent years, there remains much to be done. Transit systems face continuing needs for the rehabilitation and replacement of vehicles and infrastructure as they age and deteriorate. Transit ridership in our largest cities is projected to grow by nearly 50 percent by 2020 as cities strive to meet air quality and mobility goals. In the latest Conditions and Performance report from the Secretary, delivered to the committee just last week, we estimated that the average annual investment required over the next 20 years simply to maintain our Nation's transit systems in their current physical condition and at their current level of operational performance to be $10.8 billion. This amount is some

41 percent above actual capital expenditure levels in 1997,the base year of the report. Thanks to the generous increases in guaranteed funding under TEA-21, this projected annual funding gap over the life of TEA-21 is expected to close somewhat, to 13 percent. Improving conditions and performance would require an even greater expenditure of $16.0 billion annually. Federal, state, and local governments will clearly face significant challenges in coming years to ensure that transit capital investment levels are adequate to meet the outstanding needs.

My commitment to you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the Committee is to ensure that the best projects are funded, that the New Starts process, which has been so much improved in the past several years, works as designed and that FTA's oversight of the program ensures the best return for the investment of Federal taxpayer dollars. There already is great evidence of this in cities such as Dallas, Baltimore, Denver and Fort Lauderdale. Several members of this Committee have shared with me their first-hand experience with the benefits of mass transit investments in the states you represent.

Mr. Chairman, since I joined the agency in 1997, I have provided leadership for the many initiatives and programs that the FTA manages. Here are a few examples:

The Commuter Choice program, which members of this committee, along with Senator Moynihan and the late Senator John Chafee initiated, is off to a strong start. We have had roll-out workshops in cities across the country and have issued 10,000 Commuter Choice Tool Kits to employers and transit agencies throughout the Nation. These kits contain comprehensive information on how to implement the program. The number of employers and employees, who are participating is increasing. Just two weeks ago, the President signed an executive order directing federal agencies to offer commuter choice benefits to federal employees.

FTA is continuing to support efforts to achieve a seamless transportation systems.

Innovative financing techniques have provided over $50 million in cash benefits from private investors in the last two years. Just two months ago, the Transportation Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act (TIFIA) provided the Washington Metro system with a $600 million loan guarantee, to support their $2.3 billion capital improvement program. TEA-21 made it possible for transit systems across the Nation to benefit from joint development revenues near their stations. Last year, the Atlanta MARTA system attracted a $147 million investment at its Lindbergh station, the Washington Metro system realized over $70 million in joint development revenues, and Portland, Oregon started up a joint development revolving fund.

We have continued in our efforts to coordinate our mobility programs with those of the Department of Health and Human Services. This effort will help promote a more effective utilization of funds assigned for human services transportation. By coordinating medical transportation, the Connecticut Department of Social Services saved $3 million in fiscal 1998-99 alone. In Florida, by issuing transit passes to Medicaid recipients who were safely able to use conventional transit rather than paratransit, the Medicaid program has saved over $19 million in Dade County and more than $3 million in Volusia County, while providing additional revenue for the transit agencies. Similar programs are in place around the nation with impressive results.

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, for almost three years it has been my honor to serve as Deputy FTA administrator, leading the agency's 10 regional offices responsible for administering the Federal mass transit assistance program with hands-on, day-to-day contact with our nation's transit operators. I also have managed FTA's planning, program, research and policy offices in headquarters in overseeing close to

$6 billion in annual Federal investments. And finally, Mr. Chairman, I have been privileged to work with transit providers, large and small, in every state in the nation as we seek opportunities to meet mobility needs at the grass roots level..

If this Committee and the Senate approve my nomination as Federal Transit Administrator, I pledge to continue that partnership with you, the transit industry, and with state and local stakeholders as we work to meet our vital national interest in safe and efficient transit choices to connect the American people with work, school, health care and other opportunities.

I thank you for this opportunity and look forward to responding to your questions.

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