Mr. Chairman, I want to commend you for holding this hearing and also for your indication that other hearings on this important issue will be following. And I want to thank Secretary Mineta for appearing, and also Administrator Dorn; we are pleased to have her back before the Committee.
As Senator Reed commented, in the last Congress, this Committee and Senator Reed's Subcommittee held a series of eight hearings on transit issues. Secretary Mineta, you kicked off those hearings. The witnesses included elected officials, business leaders, transit operators and riders, and they gave us some very thoughtful testimony which, I think, can be summarized by saying that TEA-21 has worked.
Investment in transit over the last 6 years has increased by almost 50 percent. As a result, we have seen increased ridership all across the country. In fact, transit saw the highest percentage of ridership growth among all modes of surface transportation in the period from 1993 to 2001, experiencing almost a 30-percent increase. More and more communities are now considering transit investments. This is a record of success that needs to be built on.
We also, of course, face a struggling economy. The unemployment rate is the highest in 9 years. With TEA-21's reauthorization, we have an opportunity to support a program with a proven record of job creation. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that each $1 billion invested in transportation infrastructure creates 47,500 jobs. Transportation investment has a broader economic benefit as well. The U.S. Conference of Mayors has pointed out how much of our nation's economic output and jobs are in the metropolitan areas. Increasingly over the last decade, congestion is threatening the economic viability and livability of these areas, costing millions of Americans time and money that could be put to more productive use.
Earlier this year, when Administrator Dorn was here to present the administration's fiscal year 2004 budget request, I outlined three basic principles that I believe any reauthorization bill must include if we are to address the challenges we face. Some of those have already been enunciated by others, but I very briefly want to reiterate those principles.
We need to grow the transit program. I think virtually everyone recognizes that. I am concerned that the administration's proposal not only fails to grow the program, taking into account inflation, but it also cuts guaranteed funding over the 6-year period so that the guaranteed level in fiscal year 2009, $6.6 billion, is actually less than the guaranteed level today at $7.2 billion. We need to increase the overall amount, but within that, we need to make sure that we sustain the guaranteed levels.
The Department of Transportation itself has identified $14 billion a year in capital needs simply to maintain the conditions and performance of our transit systems, and $20 billion is needed to improve conditions and performance. And some of the witnesses on our second panel today have estimated even greater needs.
We need to maintain the funding guarantees that have been very important in enabling local and state governments to plan effectively. As I understand it, while the administration's proposal maintains those guarantees around the portion of the transit program that comes from the trust fund, it eliminates those guarantees from the portion of the program that comes from the general fund, which accounts for about 20 percent of the program. So there is a shrinking back of the guaranteed level, which is a source of great concern.
One of the points made over and over at our hearings last year was that the funding guarantees must be preserved. It is fair to say that the level of the guarantee has effectively established the size of the transit program under TEA-21.
We need to preserve the balance established by ISTEA and TEA-21 between highways and transit - I know the chairman made reference to that in his opening statement - both in terms of overall investments and in terms of federal matching ratios for the highways and transit programs.
We have worked out an accommodation between highways and transit over the last several authorizations. It has stood us in good stead, commands general support, and yet the administration has proposed to lower the federal match for new starts transit projects but has not proposed a corresponding change for highway projects. Senator Corzine and Senator Santorum and others made specific reference to that.
Just to underscore the point, when John Inglish, the head of the Utah Transit Authority, was before this Committee last year, he said, and I quote him, "Without the 80/20 match, our North-South, our original line would not have been built. As a relatively poor system with a quarter-cent in sales tax at the time, we could not have done it with any other match. As it happened, that line so transformed our community that within a year they doubled the sales tax to expand the public transit system, and the program has continued to grow."
If you weight it so that highways are at 80/20 and transit is at 50/50, you are going to lose that transformation effect. I thought Senator Santorum made a very important point. People will shy away from the major projects that really change the whole transportation network. They will be more inclined to do the small incremental things, and we will lose a major impetus for transforming the transportation infrastructure.
Having said all of that, I do want to take just a moment to commend the Department for including the Transit in Parks Program in your reauthorization proposal. This has been a pet of mine, legislation I have introduced in the last couple of Congresses to alleviate traffic congestion and improve the visitor experience in our national parks and other public lands by providing visitors with alternative transportation options when they visit these national treasures. What is happening now is that families line up in automobiles, in a huge line, emitting pollution. They all edge up to the admission kiosk. Then they get there and are told the park is full and they can't come in, there is no more parking and away they go. We need to develop systems where they can put their cars somewhere close and everyone can be brought into the park. It is being done in some places across the country, and it is working with great success.
We have a big challenge here ahead of us. The interest of the committee is obviously manifest. You have got a quorum already who have come today in order to be here for this hearing, and we look forward to working closely with the Department. But it is my own view that we need to strengthen this proposal in a number of significant respects, and I hope we will be able to do that in the weeks to come.