Inhofe Opening Statement for EPW Subcommittee Hearing on Highway Program

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure, delivered the following opening statement today at the EPW hearing entitled: “Leveraging Federal Funding; Innovative Solutions for Infrastructure.” 

Witnesses for the hearing included: Eric Garcetti, mayor of Los Angeles, chair of the Conference of Mayors Infrastructure task force; Tim Gatz, executive director of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority; Geoffrey Yarema, partner at Nossaman LLP, Kevin DeGood, director of infrastrucuture policy at the Center for American Progress; and Aubrey Layne, secretary of transportation of Virginia.  

As prepared for delivery: 

Thank you all for being here today. I’d like to thank my friend, Ranking Member Cardin, and his staff for their flexibility with the scheduling of today’s hearing. 

As this week is infrastructure week, it is a great opportunity for us to highlight the critical needs we have in this country. Tomorrow the full committee will have the chance to question Secretary Chao on the administration’s priorities, and it is my hope that today’s hearing will be a productive lead in to her visit. 

Last Congress the EPW Committee led the charge to pass the FAST Act—the 6th highway reauthorization bill I’ve worked on. Nobody believed we’d get it done and others thought that we’d only get an 18 month to two year reauthorization. But Senator Boxer and I insisted on five years with an increase in the federal investment and in the end we were able to get the biggest reauthorization since 1998. 

However, the current investment is not enough to fully address our maintenance and new capacity needs. The FAST Act authorization is about $305 billion over 5 years, yet according to the a U.S. DOT report from this year, the backlog of highway and bridge work in the U.S. stands close to $836 billion. 

As the administration and Congress consider a potential trillion dollar infrastructure package, we must keep in mind that package will include more than just roads and bridges—it will also address our ports, waterways, airports and energy needs as well. 

While the federal government will and should continue to be a leading partner in maintaining and building out our infrastructure, the current and proposed federal investment will not meet all of our needs. Whatever action we take on infrastructure, our state and local partners must be a part of the solution and prioritize transportation. 

Some states and locals are doing this, but unfortunately, this weekend in Oklahoma I learned about the effect proposed budget cuts to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation could have on projects around the state. 

Because of this, some 80 projects are candidates for suspension, including the largest contract Oklahoma has ever let at I-235 on the north side of Oklahoma City. 

With the federal government providing an 80 percent or 90 percent match toward many of these projects, Oklahoma should meet the federal commitment. In addition to states and locals prioritizing infrastructure, we also need to find responsible and meaningful ways to attract and leverage additional private investment to help close the gap. 

Today’s hearing will examine all these possibilities and what the federal government can do to help make it easier for our partners to leverage the federal investment with other opportunities. Though not all ideas will work everywhere, all options should be on the table and we should incentivize our non-federal partners to pursue them. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses. Thank you for being here today.