“Money aside, as important as that is, the department is also striving to make structural changes, for example in making it easier from a process perspective to build infrastructure,” Chao said.
“It also establishes target completion dates for federal review of large projects and holds accountable the lead government department or agency when deadlines are not met,” Chao said. “The goal here is to make every dollar invested in infrastructure go further without compromising outcomes. In fact, we believe that this will facilitate the outcome.”
Her speech followed remarks from Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., ranking member of the House committee; Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee; and Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., ranking member on the Senate committee.
“Congress needs to commit to funding the needed infrastructure highway projects so that we can keep pace with the demand, and the demand is out there,” Barrasso said. “The time has come to make significant investments in our roads and bridges and to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent.”
Carper said about $13 billion more was spent last year from the transportation trust than revenues that were collected. The Highway Trust Fund also is set to become insolvent within the next several years.
“I think there’s a point at which the American people get it,” he said. “They’re tired of congestion. They’re tired of blowing out tires and breaking wheels in potholes. They're tired of transit systems that are decrepit and don’t work. It’s time for the federal government to step up, step back in and become a better partner.”
DeFazio later added: “They’re willing to pay a user fee particularly if we bring back Article 1 projects, which is what some call earmarks. ... Why shouldn’t elected representatives through a transparent process be able to spend a small amount of money, bring it home and show people what they’re going to get for a small increase in their gas tax?”
Graves, however, said gas taxes have provided diminishing returns as vehicles become more fuel efficient. He said he supports a vehicles miles traveled program, which has had pilot tests in several states.
Graves also said the House infrastructure bill will be broader and more comprehensive than what he expects out of the Senate. Regardless, with the presidential election looming in 2020, the package needs to be “done quicker rather than later,” he said.
Graves added that DeFazio wants to see something out of the House Committee by May, which he called “doable — very, very doable.”