Inhofe’s Opening Statement at EPW Hearing Entitled, “MAP-21 Reauthorization: State and Local Perspectives on Transportation Priorities and Funding”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), senior member of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, today delivered the following opening statement at a EPW Committee hearing entitled, “MAP-21 Reauthorization: State and Local Perspectives on Transportation Priorities and Funding.” Witnesses at today’s hearing include Michael Lewis, director of Rhode Island Department of Transportation; Sue Minter, deputy secretary of Vermont Agency of Transportation; Greg Ballard, mayor of Indianapolis; Mick Cornett, mayor of Oklahoma City; Bill Frontenot, president of St. Landry’s Parish; Jim Willox, chairman of Wyoming Converse County Commission; and Dave Gula, principal planner of the Wilmington Area Planning Council.

As prepared for delivery:        

           I’d like to welcome Mayor Cornett from Oklahoma City. It’s great to have you here with us today and I want to congratulate you on your recent reelection. We look forward to your testimony. 

            Today we’re focusing on local transportation perspectives and I’d like to highlight two significant challenges to the future of the Federal Highway Program. One, which we are all well aware of, is the Highway Trust Fund shortfall. The other is something we haven’t touched on in a while and it is the EPA’s ever-changing national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS), and their effect on the ability for states and locals to build new roads and bridges. 

            First, the Department of Transportation is projecting for the trust fund to run out of money sometime in August – before MAP-21 expires. In Oklahoma, federal funding accounts for about half of ODOT’s funding. Every year ODOT updates their 8 year plan – where they prioritize what projects get funded. Mike Patterson, ODOT’s Director, has told me that the 8 year plan becomes a 16 year plan if federal funding dries up; however that doesn’t take into account the deferred maintenance which will drive costs up even more. Oklahoma City is intersected by three major interstates – I-35, I-40, and I-44 – which connect the city and Oklahoma to the rest of the country. I am amazed that we continue to allow the physical platform of our economy, like these interstates, to decay, yet we continue to expect our just-in-time economy not to be affected. The additional friction costs associated with freight and commuting delays, far out paces the cost of investing in these roads in the first place. 

            Finally, after yesterday’s hearing with Gina McCarthy, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the EPA’s ongoing desire to change the NAAQS for Ozone, which many in the highway world may not realize affects them tremendously. Any project in a county that is non-attainment must go through a conformity process under the Clean Air Act, which requires emissions offsets to any increased new mobile source emissions, for example – a large project like the newly completed I-40 Crosstown expressway in Oklahoma City.

            After the 2008 standards of 75 parts per billion, Oklahoma worked hard and spent a lot of money to maintain its “nonattainment” status statewide. It has come to my attention that the staff at the EPA might be looking at a standard as low as 60 parts per billion. [Charts 1 &2] Behind me, you’ll see maps of what would happen to the United States and Oklahoma if the EPA and the environmentalists are successful in unnecessarily lowering the standard from 75 ppm to 60ppm.  If this were to happen, it would add enormous additional cost to any new road expansion project. 

             As Ranking Member of the Armed Services Committee I have to attend a hearing that we have going on right now, so I’m not going to be here for questions. However, I ask that the panelists submit the costs and burdens that will be associated with expanding your roads and bridges and attracting new businesses when you fall out of attainment because of the EPA. 

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