U.S. Needs New Transportation Law that Improves Quality of Life, Economy

By U.S. Rep. Thomas E. Petri (R-WI)
Subcommittee on Highways and Transit of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

The nation’s transportation infrastructure is an extensive system of highways, airports, railroads, public transit systems, waterways, ports and pipelines. Chances are if you’re reading this, the transportation system in your region already impacted your day. Getting to work, getting the kids to school, getting to the store to buy groceries – these are some of the ways that transportation affects our quality of life every day. The transportation system not only impacts us personally, it also impacts our ability as a nation to facilitate economic growth and compete in the global marketplace.

Providing the nation with a transportation system has long been recognized as a federal responsibility that is shared with state and local partners. As the authorizing committee with jurisdiction over all modes of transportation, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is focused on a number of important pieces of legislation this Congress, including the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) and the next surface transportation reauthorization bill.

WRRDA will address the needs of our ports, waterways infrastructure and other water resources issues to strengthen our transportation system, keep America competitive and promote economic growth. The House and Senate both recently approved this bill with overwhelming bipartisan majorities.

In addition to our ports and waterways, the nation’s highway system is an essential part of the freight transportation network. Not every community is located adjacent to a railroad, airport, waterway or port, but a consumer good is almost invariably transported along the nation’s four million miles of highways and roads for at least part of its journey. Furthermore, first- and last-mile connections to other modes of transportation are almost always made via highways.

Last year, Committee Chairman Bill Shuster created the panel on 21st Century Freight Transportation. This panel, which was chaired by Congressman John J. Duncan Jr., studied freight transportation issues across the committee’s jurisdiction. To examine these issues, the panel held six public hearings, three roundtable discussions, toured freight facilities in Southern California, the Memphis region, the New York City/Northern New Jersey region, and Norfolk, Virginia, and held numerous briefings with freight industry professionals and other interested parties. The panel issued a final report that reflected the findings and recommendations it reached as a result of these activities. The recommendations will help the committee focus on these issues as we develop the next surface transportation bill and other legislation. The report can be found on the committee’s website.

The current surface transportation law, known as MAP-21, expires at the end of September. The committee is working in a bipartisan fashion on fiscally-responsible legislation that reauthorizes federal programs for highways, bridges, public transportation and highway safety. But fundamentally, the next surface transportation bill is about improving our quality of life, growing the economy and creating jobs.

As we develop the specific provisions of this bill, we will continue to follow some important principles. We need a bill that builds on the reforms in MAP-21 and provides our non-federal partners with the flexibility they need to address their transportation challenges. We need a bill that reduces the regulatory burdens and enables projects to move forward. We need a bill that improves the movement of freight and helps keep down the cost of goods and services on which we rely in our daily lives. We need a bill that welcomes innovation and lays the foundation for emerging technologies in order to gain greater safety and efficiency.

There are challenges, but we cannot fail to act – the consequences are too great. So, our bipartisan efforts will continue in earnest. In addition to working with our colleagues, we want to gather policy ideas from stakeholders, including AAPA. Through this collaborative process, we can develop a bill that addresses our transportation infrastructure needs not only for the present day, but for future generations.

U.S. Rep. Thomas E. Petri represents Wisconsin’s 6th Congressional District. He is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.