Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I'd like to express my appreciation for your holding this hearing today. Today the U.S. transit system faces tremendous challenges which we must address as we seek to protect both or citizens the American freedom of movement. Since the tragedy of September 11, we have looked to our transit system not only for transportation but also as an evacuation system and as a highly vulnerable asset to terrorist attack. We are all in agreement that we should have the safest, most secure transit system possible since this system is essential to the proper functioning of our economy.
Our transportation system is the backbone of our communities, one which we must continually maintain and improve upon so that our communities can properly function and grow. This budget contains a number of new initiatives which seek to assist communities which have not traditionally been served by federal transit funds. I especially note the higher priority the Administration has placed on rural public transportation; an area which I believe has been too long overlooked. Our rural populations have long been challenged by a real lack of public transportation. In fact, forty percent of rural counties have no public transit today and this is especially true for southern and western states. This is an area which deserves attention and I applaud the administration for taking steps to address this problem.
In addition, I want to complement the "small start" initiative in this budget. This recognizes that there is a difference between large and small transit projects by creating an option for smaller projects which may suit a community's needs better. Unfortunately, I believe that the current program has inadvertently created an incentive for communities to build transit based on available funds - not based upon what their needs are. The proposed less complicated rating process would go far to correct this problem.
North Carolina is truly an up and coming state in public transportation. Our communities are taking a fresh look at public transportation as solutions to the problems we face with growing congestion and mobility issues. With this increased interest from within the state my and my background in transportation, I look forward to working with all my colleagues as we move to reauthorize the TEA-21 law. In addition, I especially look forward to working with my old friend Administrator Dorn and thank her for taking time out of her busy schedule to join us here today.