WASHINGTON, D. C. — "I am very pleased this morning to convene the first in a series of hearings on a topic that is a high priority for the Banking Committee this year – re-authorization of the Transportation Equity Act of the 21st Century. TEA-21 expires on September 30, 2003, and Senator Sarbanes and I have been actively preparing for the revision of this legislation. On March 13th, the Committee heard from Federal Transit Administrator Jennifer Dorn on her agency's FY 2004 budget priorities. Embedded in that proposal were several groundbreaking initiatives, some of which I thought had potential, like the changes suggested to foster programs like bus rapid transit – and some initiatives, like eliminating the bus discretionary program and lowering the federal match for new starts projects that I have concerns about."
"Today, we are here to learn from the Administrator and the distinguished panel of witnesses that will follow about "Bus Rapid Transit and Other Bus Service Innovations." Bus Rapid Transit, or "BRT" is a new technology that was not around during the writing of TEA-21 and evidence exists that many communities around the country are now giving it serious consideration. In fact, when I asked that members formally make requests to the Committee of projects in their state that they wished to have authorized, almost 50 communities in 22 states submitted requests for authorization for BRT or enhanced bus programs. The total amount requested for this technology hovers at about $5 billion. This certainly demonstrates the level of interest out there for BRT and bus improvements."
"In response to this heightened level of interest, in 1999, the Federal Transit Administration created a special program within the agency's research office to study BRT and I've asked the Administrator to share insights from that experience with us today. We've also assembled a panel who each have varied experience with this new technology and have recommendations for reauthorization. GAO has already done a study called "Bus Rapid Transit Shows Progress." The National Bus Rapid Transit Institute, part of University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research, also has a representative here. We have two real-life examples of BRT projects – one in Eugene, Oregon that, while still in the development stage, shows promise and a second example that has been implemented with great acclaim in Columbia, South America. Finally, a representative of the Surface Transportation Policy Project is also joining us this afternoon to talk about bus service improvements generally and how transit decisions contribute to land use and community development."
"One final note: while I certainly believe that BRT is a viable option worthy of consideration in communities where it makes sense, I believe that at the federal level, on this Committee and within the Department of Transportation, we should remain mode-neutral. No one knows better about what will work in a particular community than those that are living and working in those communities. While BRT has been touted as a potential replacement for the more capital intensive light rail, I feel it is best for communities make that determination at the local level. For some communities, light rail is a more appropriate choice based on ridership potential, density, and cost-considerations. One thing we want to make sure of in reauthorization is that we have a program which gives local communities maximum flexibility to choose the right project based on their needs."
"With that, I'll ask for other opening statements and then let the Administrator proceed with her testimony."