07.30.14

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) On A Short-Term Extension Of The Highway Trust Fund

Our tight knit communities in Vermont are part and parcel of my state’s culture of neighbors helping neighbors.  Our neighbors are not just next door; they are often in the most rural parts of the state, which can be difficult to reach.  Our roads and our bridges connect us in a most basic way, and Hurricane Irene was a stark reminder that our infrastructure connects us not only in commercial ways, but in practical social ways that are integral to the spirit of Vermont communities.  After Irene, with some of our roads and bridges completely destroyed, we saw, felt and lived what it truly meant to be cut off and isolated from our surrounding communities.

 

As Congress faces a deadline in the Highway Trust Fund, we are facing yet another artificial, made-in-Congress crisis for our states, their people, and for the Nation.  Congress is senselessly imposing these strains and lost opportunities on this country.  There are those in Congress in recent years whose approach to governing is “my way, or the highway.”  This time, even the highway is not safe from their obstructionism.  This is a crisis we can avert if we would only work together to agree on a long-term funding plan for the Nation’s transportation programs.  I commend the Committee on Environment & Public Works for their hard work on legislation to reauthorize the  Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), and I commend the Committee on Finance for its hard work in trying to solve the funding issues we face in developing and improving our country’s infrastructure.  

 

However, I had hoped the Senate would have responsibly agreed to a long-term plan to give state and local governments the certainty and stability they need to plan.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.  And while a short term fix avoids a transportation catastrophe this summer, it will also increase costs of transportation projects, limit the ability of state and local governments to plan infrastructure improvement, and ultimately result in the degradation of our country’s infrastructure.  Start-and-stop highway construction is even more wasteful than start-and-stop driving is on our roads.  It is wasteful, it hurts our communities and our economy, and it is needless.    

 

The Highway Trust Fund is a critical asset for Vermont, as it is for every state.  It provides millions of dollars to repair our roads and bridges and creates jobs for thousands of Vermonters.  According to the State of Vermont, every $1 million of transportation funding supports about 35 jobs in Vermont, directly and through the maintenance of the state’s transportation infrastructure.  Construction companies, sign-makers, state employees, and every citizen will suffer the consequence of the inability to make progress on this vital issue.

 

While this short-term fix has become necessary, we must acknowledge what long-term funding for infrastructure represents: opportunity.  Large, long-term investments in infrastructure have paid off in the past.  President Eisenhower’s “grand plan” for the Interstate Highway System was an ambitious project that many questioned at the time.  Today, it is indisputable that the vision of President Eisenhower and the foresight of the legislators in Congress who authorized the Interstate Highway System have strengthened our economy in every corner of the Nation, providing the opportunity for the American people and their families and businesses to grow, travel, and invest in the future.  There are many Vermonters, and citizens all across the Nation, who are counting on us to provide a comprehensive, long-term solution to this problem.  By coming together, we have an incredible opportunity to invest in the wellbeing of future Americans, and of our country.   Let us not continue this latest made-in-Congress crisis.  Let us pass the reauthorization of MAP-21 before the new December deadline.

 

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