March 10, 2009
Says “2009 the Year to Put Transit in the Driver’s Seat”
DODD URGES WORLD-CLASS TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM AT TRANSIT CONFERENCE
Says “2009 the Year to Put Transit in the Driver’s Seat”
Washington, DC – Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, today addressed the American Public Transit Association (APTA) Conference, saying that enhancing our nation’s transit systems is the key to helping the nation tackle challenges from energy and climate change to sprawl to economic development. Dodd delivered his remarks as the Committee prepares to renew the nation’s surface transportation law, which will include transit. As part of the Committee’s transit agenda, Senator Dodd will hold a hearing on Thursday entitled “Sustainable Transportation Solutions: Investing in Transit to Meet 21st Century Challenges.”
Senator Dodd’s remarks as prepared are below:
For three-and-a-half decades, APTA has been dedicated to creating a future where we recognize the vital role public transportation plays in our economic growth as a nation and our quality of life as a people, as demonstrated by the historic ridership levels we read about this week.
Obviously, we meet at a transformative moment in our history. I hardly need to outline the challenges our nation faces.
Global warming threatens our health, our competitiveness, our leadership in the world, and the very future of our planet.
Our energy policy leaves us dangerously dependent on some of the most unstable countries around the globe.
And meanwhile, our economy is withering.
Twenty-thousand people are losing their jobs every day – nine- to ten-thousand people watch their homes go into foreclosure every day. The credit markets are still frozen. And the confidence and optimism of America is at record lows.
And if you think those are big challenges, just look at where we will be in forty years.
Our population is expected to grow by another 50 percent in the first half of this century. In all, we can expect 150 million more people requiring another 200 billion square feet of homes, office buildings and other construction.
Just to begin turning back the effects of global warming, we will need to reduce our carbon emissions by 80 percent – this at the same time experts predict world-wide use of oil will be going up, driven most by our biggest competitors, China and India, who have already challenged the United States’ supremacy in the areas of manufacturing and technology.
Critical to addressing nearly every one of these challenges is the same thing:
A world-class transportation system.
I should note here that there have been a lot of comparisons made recently of the current economic crisis to the Great Depression. A little further back in history was the Great Panic of 1873, which led to a depression that lasted six years.
One of the underlying causes behind that depression was a massive failure in our transportation system – it resulted from the “Great Epizootic horse influenza epidemic,” which ground the street railway industry to a halt, leaving men to pull wagons by hand as trains and ships full of cargo were left unloaded and communities went without goods and services for long stretches.
Today, neither the health of our equestrian population nor transportation system are at the root of our economic crisis – but the latter is certainly in no condition to help us out of it either. It’s inefficient, deteriorating and responsible for a third of our carbon footprint.
It’s not hard to see why. Our federal transportation policy today is rooted not in prioritizing projects of the greatest importance to our country – but in ensuring that everyone gets their fair share of the money.
Instead of measuring performance, we measure how much gasoline is sold in each state to determine where scarce resources will flow.
Instead of debating national priorities, we endlessly debate funding formulas.
Instead of basing our decisions on what’s best for America, all too often we base them on who chairs what congressional committee. As a result, instead of national leadership, we literally pass the buck on to the states with little accountability or transparency.
Please do not misunderstand me – State Departments of Transportation do their very best with what they are given. But America will never meet the challenges of this century with 50 states carrying out 50 different plans with no national vision.
When our politics is small, our ambitions become even smaller, and America can’t afford that right now.
The question should never be, “Are we dedicating enough funding to highways or rail?” but rather “Are we advancing our national interest?”
Are we reducing congestion? Are we tackling climate change? Are we reducing our dangerous dependence on foreign oil? Are we managing land use smartly?
And above all, are we keeping America’s communities and businesses competitive in a global economy?
Of course, our highways continue to play an incredibly important role in moving people and freight.
But there’s not a person here who believes all our problems will be answered simply by building more highway lanes. Congestion on our roads costs us five times as much wasted fuel and time as it did 25 years ago, not to mention billions of dollars in freight delays.
Our current approach to transportation is simply not getting the job done. And one reason why is our failure to appreciate the role of transit.
A friend recently told me that for years, transit has been regarded as a “necessary evil.” But today, transit’s just plain necessary.
As I mentioned, the number of transit riders is growing and reaching levels we have not seen in decades. 2008 was another record year for transit – Americans took over 10 billion trips on public transit, the highest number since the Interstate Highway System was created in 1956. In my state, nearly 38 million customers rode the New Haven Metro-North line in 2008.
Public transit saves over 4 billion gallons of gasoline annually and reduces carbon emissions by some 37 million metric tons a year – that’s equivalent to the electricity used by almost 5 million households.
And transit is so much more than buses and rail lines – it’s the glue that holds our transportation systems and our communities together.
If highways and rail are the arteries on which our national transportation system depends, delivering people and goods from one region to another, then transit is the capillaries – the lifeblood of any vibrant community.
But as you well know, for all the latitude we give states to build new highway capacity with federal dollars, getting approval to build new transit systems in our communities with federal dollars is brutally difficult.
While the Federal government is prepared to pick up 80 percent of the costs for new highway capacity projects, it generally pays less than half of that for new transit projects.
Congress is scheduled to write a new the surface transportation law later this year. As chair of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee responsible for the transit provisions in that bill, I believe we have a unique opportunity to redefine public transportation in America.
For me, the goal is clear: laying the ground work for an integrated transportation system – one that coordinates land use and economic development plans to meet the challenges posed by global economic competition, climate change, our energy needs, and population growth in the coming decades.
By coordinating housing and transportation policy to encourage smart land-use, we can generate economic growth and create vibrant communities where people can live and work with a smaller carbon footprint.
I was recently in North Carolina, where cities like Charlotte are demonstrating the difference “transit-oriented development” can make. Ridership on its new light rail line has exceeded the wildest expectations and private development investment along the rail line is already closing in on $2 billion dollars.
A Brownfield site in the town of Fairfield, Connecticut is another project potentially in the pipeline. When completed Fairfield Metro Center is expected include 860,000 square feet of office space, retail space for newsstands and dry cleaners, a hotel, and condominiums. Creating 3,000 construction jobs and, perhaps more importantly, 2,700 permanent jobs, it will be powered by fuel cells, solar power and other energy efficient technologies.
It’s all contingent on access to mass transit, an on-site commuter train station and underground parking, connecting the complex to communities throughout the state.
None of these projects happen by accident. They happen because community leaders recognized the need to integrate land use and transportation decisions and involve every aspect of its city government—from planning to public works—in this effort.
It’s time the Federal government mirrored the example set by these communities.
President Obama has assembled a very smart, very savvy team – Carol Browner, overseeing energy and climate change policy at the White House, Shaun Donovan at Housing and Urban Development, Steven Chu at Energy, former Congressman Ray LaHood at Transportation, and Adolfo Carrion, Director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs.
In the coming weeks and months, I will be meeting with many of them to convey my strong belief that we can’t afford to treat housing, transportation, the environment and energy as discrete policy issues any longer.
That means making issues like transit more than just a piece of our next transportation bill – but also bedrock components of our climate change, housing and energy efforts.
That is why I’ve written President Obama, urging him to establish a White House Office of Sustainable Development – to ensure that we are coordinating all of these issues the most comprehensive, integrated, holistic way possible.
The Banking Committee is exploring ways to encourage states and localities to devise a broad vision for coping with congestion, environmental concerns, housing, land use, and economic development issues.
That is what Connecticut is working towards with the Tri-City Corridor commuter rail line, linking New Haven, Hartford and Springfield – better connecting the region with New York and Boston to reduce congestion, create jobs and stimulate our state’s flagging economy.
Further, with a severe recession and an unemployment rate that could get into double-digits, we’re finally looking at funding some of the projects that have been sitting idle for years.
The stimulus offered us a good opportunity to get the economy moving in the short-term with investments important to the long-term success of the country.
But we shouldn’t confuse a down-payment with a new policy. And we shouldn’t confuse “shovel-ready” with “future-ready.”
And we can’t get there without finding an effective way to provide new funding for large, complicated infrastructure projects that are important to our continued regional and national economic success.
That is why one of my top priorities in this Congress is creating a National Infrastructure Bank – an idea I developed over the course of several years with Senator Chuck Hagel from Nebraska, former New Hampshire Senator Warren Rudman and financier Felix Rohatyn, who helped prevent New York City from falling into bankruptcy during the 1970s.
The need was obvious. Only hours after we proposed this legislation in August of 2007, the bridge carrying Interstate 35 over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis buckled and broke, killing 13 people and injuring than 100.
The National Infrastructure Bank would ensure that important projects receive funding – creating a new funding stream for projects that offer the greatest economic and environmental benefits which communities often cannot afford to build on their own. It would encourage regional approaches to infrastructure needs, and seek to expand private sector participation to fund big projects through a competitive, merit-based process outside of formulas and earmarks.
Governors and Mayors across the partisan divide support the Infrastructure Bank, from Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
President Obama co-sponsored our infrastructure bank legislation as a Senator, endorsed the idea during his campaign, and included it in his budget outline. So, I’m hopeful to see action on the bill this year.
It comes down to our commitment, yours and mine. The Department of Transportation’s mission is to “Serve the United States by ensuring a fast, safe, efficient, accessible and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people, today and into the future.”
It’s a worthy, ambitious mission that deserves better than the collection of modally-focused agencies we have there today.
The Department of Transportation needs to be more than just a building. It needs to provide the leadership necessary to make our entire transportation system work. And under President Obama and Secretary LaHood I am hopeful that it will work.
When Secretary LaHood comes before our Committee on Thursday, I will press upon him that while transit alone won’t magically solve any of the major problems facing our nation, it is a critical part of the solution to so many of them – from metropolitan congestion to our dependence on foreign oil to getting our economy moving again.
I’m committed to making transit a priority – not only for the Senate Banking Committee, but for the country. But to make that possible, I need your help – your boots on the ground, going from office-to-office on Capitol Hill, making the case to your representatives in Washington that the world of 2009 is a very different place and this is a very different moment. It’s a unique moment – and the choice is clear:
America can continue down the road of unchecked sprawl, increased congestion, more oil consumption and less open space.
Or, if we want to meet the challenges of the 21st century, we can develop our communities and our country in a sustainable way—making our economy leaner and more efficient and reducing carbon emissions—by making a historic commitment to public transportation.
That is our goal today and in the coming months.
And when future generations look back on this moment, let them remember 2009 as the year America put transit in the driver’s seat. Thank you for all you do – and thank you for having me.
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