Mr Chairman and colleagues, I am pleased to participate in today's hearing on transit programs and the reauthorization of ISTEA.
While we often hear of ISTEA's great success in maintaining our nation's highways, we should not overlook the role ISTEA has played in our mass transit systems and environment. The reason for this dual success is ISTEA's flexibility and willingness to partially meet the funding needs of our national infrastructure.
Like the Chairman and the Ranking Member, I am a cosponsor of legislation to continue ISTEA's success and reauthorize its current programs and funding formulas. I am glad that the administration's NEXTEA proposal recognizes, in part, that our transportation system is national and has a great impact on our environment.
Rhode Island is a unique state in many ways, including its transit system. The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority is one of only four statewide transit agencies in the nation. RIPTA is a seamless, cost-effective system that attempts to meet the transit needs of one million people in a state with both rural and urban areas. In 1996, RIPTA logged 18 million riders on its fleet of buses. Over 20% of these riders are seniors and disabled residents. In addition, RIPTA plays an important role in helping my state achieve its 1990 Clean Air attainment goals. And, with the advent of welfare reform, RIPTA will play an essential role in helping people making the transition from welfare to work arrive at their job on time.
RIPTA accomplishes these goals even though it, like many transit agencies, struggles financially. A unique provision of ISTEA went a long way towards helping RIPTA adjust to declining federal operating assistance and state budgetary pressures. Unfortunately, NEXTEA would not continue this assistance for RIPTA, and, as the Committee works on ISTEA reauthorization, I plan to address this and other issues of importance to RIPTA and its riders.
I look forward to today's testimony, and I hope that this hearing is the first in a series of successful steps to equitably and rationally reauthorize our nation's transit policy.
Again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding today's hearing.
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