Transportation and Infrastructure (June 2009)

Transportation Report: Rebuilding of I-35W bridge shows how to cut red tape on projects nationwide

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee leaders are in the process of writing the next multi-year authorization of the nation’s surface transportation programs. This legislation will determine how we will invest in America’s infrastructure for the better part of the next decade.

The condition of our nation’s infrastructure continues to decline, and every dollar we invest in improvements must count.

Because of bureaucratic delays, many important projects do not break ground for several years, tying up limited federal resources while project sponsors navigate the complicated maze that is the federal approval process. These delays in transportation improvements have real costs for Americans, such as the thousands of hours lost while stuck in traffic and the lives lost in crashes that could have been avoided.

In order to ensure that we get the maximum value from our investments, one of the primary goals of the transportation bill should be to cut red tape and shorten the time it takes to move critical infrastructure projects forward.

The August 2007 I-35W bridge collapse in Minnesota was tragic. While the accident was a result of design error and not the age or condition of the bridge, the incident nevertheless highlighted the need for significant and sound investments in our infrastructure.

Had the reconstruction of this important transportation link followed the normal process for similar projects, it would have taken seven to eight years to be completed.  Tom Skancke of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission testified before the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in 2008 that if you “add one federal dollar to a project, it adds 14 years to the delivery time.”  This is simply unnecessary and unacceptable.

Looking at the Minnesota bridge incident, we have an example of a major infrastructure project undertaken without all the bureaucracy. The new replacement bridge was contracted to be completed in just 437 days. The project, completed essentially on-budget, actually finished three months ahead of schedule and less than one year after construction began.

We must consider the Minnesota project to be the model for an initiative to expedite construction of other infrastructure projects around the United States.

I call this initiative the Mica 437-Day Plan.

Countless other transportation and infrastructure projects can be sped up without adversely affecting the environment. Expediting projects can have a positive impact on our quality of life, and actually reduce the negative impact that inefficiencies of existing infrastructure may have on the environment.

Every dollar and every gallon of gasoline Americans waste because of congestion results in increased vehicle emissions. Annually, we lose $78 billion and almost 3 billion gallons of gas in traffic delays. Drivers in 28 U.S. metropolitan areas experience 40 or more hours of delay per year due to congestion. Streamlining project delivery can reduce these costs to the environment and the economy.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) and I hope to address this pivotal policy issue through the transportation reauthorization legislation. It is our intention to cut the project process at least in half.

Cutting red tape and the inordinate amount of time it takes to get shovels into the ground to build projects will save money. These savings can be invested in other critical projects. Instead of throwing money into a bureaucratic black hole, we can invest more in our crumbling infrastructure and sooner realize the benefits of a safer, more efficient transportation system.

The need to eliminate these wasteful delays became even clearer when Congress was considering a stimulus package earlier this year. Job creation was the essential element of the stimulus, and investments in infrastructure create good jobs. Estimates vary, but approximately 30,000 jobs are created or sustained for every $1 billion that we spend on improving our infrastructure.

Of the $787 billion approved in the stimulus, only 6 percent was dedicated to infrastructure. According to the Congressional Budget Office, a larger investment in the nation’s highways, transit systems, airports, rail systems, ports and waterways could not be supported because too many potential job-creating projects are tied up in the lengthy governmental approval process.

Despite the nation’s overwhelming need for jobs and infrastructure improvements, numerous projects that could have made an immediate impact on the economy and in people’s lives are sitting on the shelf, mired in red tape.

In order to create jobs and cut government waste, the project process must be streamlined, lengthy review processes must be conducted concurrently rather than consecutively, and we must stop frittering away our resources with needless delays.

While congestion continues to be a drag on the American economy, funding for infrastructure becomes more precious every day. The gas tax, as the mechanism for funding transportation improvements, is obsolete. In order to stay solvent, the Highway Trust Fund will soon need a second infusion of funds in under a year’s time.

We cannot afford to maintain the status quo. Transportation typically doesn’t receive the level of media attention it did when the I-35W bridge collapsed, but many projects across the nation are as critical to the economy, safety and efficiency as the replacement bridge that was completed in under 437 days. We should not be spending a decade on projects that can be completed, without trampling over the environment, in a year or two.

As part of a new national transportation strategy, the pending transportation law must incorporate a 437-Day Plan that will expedite the delivery of projects to save time and money, and build the United States’s infrastructure.

Mica is ranking member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Transportation Report: A blueprint for investment and reform

This week, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure will release its Blueprint for Investment and Reform, a white paper outlining the organizational and policy reforms in the Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009. This legislation, now being drafted, will make significant changes in the way federal transportation programs are administered and how federal transportation dollars are invested

Decades of underinvestment

Regrettably, our transportation system, once the envy of the world, is losing its battle against time, growth, weather and wear. The system is suffering from decades of underinvestment, and the costs are staggering:

• Each year, 42,500 people are killed and 2.5 million people are seriously injured in more than 6 million motor vehicle crashes, which are now the leading cause of death of children and young adults ages 3 to 34.

• Congestion is crippling our major cities and even our small towns, at a cost of more than $78 billion a year, causing hardship for drivers and increasing costs and inefficiencies for America’s businesses.

• Accidents and traffic delays cost Americans more than $365 billion a year — $1 billion a day — or $1,200 for every man, woman and child in the nation.

• Nearly 61,000 miles, or 37 percent, of all lane miles on the National Highway System are in poor or fair condition, and more than 152,000 bridges — one of every four — are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. The nation’s largest public transit agencies face an $80 billion maintenance backlog to bring their rail systems to a state of good repair and, within the next six years, almost every transit vehicle (55,000 vehicles) in rural America will need to be replaced.

• Since 1995, the percentage increase in miles traveled on the national highway system has been three times the percentage growth in the system’s capacity.

• Unlike citizens of other major industrialized nations, Americans have limited transportation choices. The United States has almost no high-speed passenger rail service, even though it is widely recognized that high-speed rail can significantly reduce congestion on our highways and in the air. We invest only a fraction of the amounts invested by European and Asian countries in high-speed rail.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is charged with addressing these enormous challenges. However, it has not lived up to its original purpose of integrating and implementing transportation policy. Most of DOT’s policies are established and administered by separate agencies, each of which focuses on a single mode of transportation.

Since completion of the Interstate highway system, our national transportation policy has lacked strategic focus. Although states and metropolitan regions are required to develop long-range transportation plans for highway, transit and rail investment, there has been no attempt to aggregate these plans and establish a National Transportation Strategic Plan that is intermodal in nature and national in scope.

In addition, federal transportation programs have no performance metrics. Today, there is no requirement for states, cities and public transit agencies to develop transportation plans with specific performance objectives, nor does DOT ensure that states are meeting specific objectives. DOT and state departments of transportation primarily decide whether projects are eligible for funding, but not whether the projects that are funded actually achieve the expected benefits. Throughout federal surface transportation programs there is limited transparency, accountability or oversight.

There are also unnecessarily long delays — more than 10 years for many highway and transit projects — for needed transportation improvements to be planned, approved and constructed.

Lastly, the financing mechanism for the programs is in crisis. The Highway Trust Fund does not have adequate revenues to meet existing commitments made by the federal government. If this is not corrected, there will be massive cuts in transportation investments beginning later this year, which will cause crippling job losses, a deepening of the economic recession, and a further deterioration of the nation’s surface transportation system.

1956 policies and 2009 needs

The template for our federal transportation programs was drawn in the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 (P.L. 84-627). This landmark legislation established formula grant programs to distribute federal surface transportation funds to states.

However, the transportation programs and policies crafted more than a half-century ago are no longer well-suited to today’s challenges of improving the condition, performance and safety of our system. With completion of the Interstate system, national transportation policy lost its focus. Today, there are more than 108 individual programs, as well as dozens of set-asides and takedowns, that provide federal surface transportation funding. Overlapping and similar eligibility, transferability of funds, and the lack of transparency, accountability, and oversight make it impossible to determine whether programs are meeting national objectives. 

A bold new vision

Present and future demands on the nation’s intermodal surface transportation network require a bold, new vision, greater accountability, and a forward-thinking approach to the movement of people and goods.

The Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009 will transform the nation’s surface transportation framework and provide the necessary investment to carry out this vision. This increased investment will be accompanied by greater transparency, accountability, oversight and performance measures to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being invested effectively and in a manner that provides the maximum return on that investment.

The Blueprint document will be released at a Capitol Hill news conference at 11 a.m. Thursday. The event will be webcast live on the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure website: The document itself will also be posted on the site at that time.

Oberstar is chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Transportation Report: Highway Trust Fund on verge of bankruptcy

As economic stimulus funding makes its way into our communities, thousands of transportation projects are breaking ground across the county.

Tens of thousands of men and women are heading back to work, and billions of dollars are flowing into our local economies.

Our efforts to rebuild our infrastructure and boost our economy are working, and we need to continue investing in our country’s infrastructure. But these efforts are threatened by the impending bankruptcy of the Highway Trust Fund.

If we don’t step up to the plate and provide the Trust Fund with an estimated $5 billion to $7 billion before August of this year, transportation projects across the country may screech to a halt, state budgets will be thrown into crisis, and thousands upon thousands of family-wage jobs will be put in jeopardy.

In addition, the Highway Trust Fund needs another $8 billion to $10 billion in order to support our transportation programs through fiscal 2010. The next fiscal year begins in just three short months, and during one of those months, members of Congress will be working in their home states. This schedule leaves very little time for enacting legislation to save the Highway Trust Fund.

At the same time, the Appropriations Committee will be writing the bill to provide funding for transportation programs for fiscal year 2010. Unless there are balances in the Highway Trust Fund to support these funding levels, we have not really fixed the problem.

As chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, I believe strongly that we cannot let this impending shortfall materialize. The stakes are just too high for our states, our families and our commuters.

We went through this situation last year, and back then I introduced legislation that bolstered the Trust Fund and averted a crisis.

I had been sounding the alarm for years about the financial crisis facing the Highway Trust Fund, and was glad that after consistently blocking every attempt to solve the problem, the Bush administration finally owned up to the urgent need and worked with us to replace $8 billion that had been taken out of the system 20 years ago.

I included this short-term solution on the Transportation Appropriations bill, and I supported the bill that the president signed into law.

What I said back then was that while we needed a short-term fix to make good on our promises, we also need to start examining long-term changes to the Trust Fund that make it sustainable and prevent us from having to avert crises again and again.

The Highway Trust Fund was created in 1956 to supply our country with a protected account dedicated to building the Interstate highway system. The system has served our country effectively for decades.

The Trust Fund has offered states the predictability and consistency they deserve, and it has allowed them to plan their transportation spending with confidence. Transportation investments require a great deal of analysis and planning, and our states and communities must have a stable source of funding.

The Trust Fund was built on the premise that transportation programs should be sustained by the people who use them, and not the general taxpayer. This has created a stable system that deserves protecting.

However, after more than 50 years of heavy reliance on gas taxes to finance the Trust Fund, the time has come for a new approach.

With the technological advancements of the last 50 years, a greater consciousness of the environmental impact of auto emissions, and the rising cost of oil, transportation decisions made by American families and businesses continue to evolve.

Americans are driving cars that are more fuel-efficient. And last year, as gas prices skyrocketed, families cut back on their driving and tax revenue plummeted.

Also, as we work to reduce our reliance on foreign oil by supporting clean-energy technology and higher emissions standards, we are doing even more to push down gas tax revenue.

Our model for funding transportation is outdated, and it is not a sustainable system. As Congress looks to reauthorize our surface transportation policies and programs this year, modernizing our system for financing transportation investment will be integral to ensuring a safe and efficient transportation infrastructure over the long term.

The Trust Fund needs a dedicated source of revenue to be self-sustaining in order to protect the stability of our transportation programs, and to ensure that we can provide these stable funding levels without threatening our other priorities.

Finding a solution will require a strong bipartisan, bicameral commitment in Congress to work with the administration to explore all possible remedies.

Inaction is not an option. We need to save the Trust Fund this summer, and we need to work together to put in place a long-term, sustainable system for financing surface transportation investments in the future.

Murray is chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations transportation subcommittee.

Transportation Report: Create fair highway-funding formula; do not institute tolls as a double tax

Maintaining and improving our nation’s vast surface transportation network has become nearly as daunting as negotiating the gridlocked roads of many American cities at rush hour. Communities across Texas and throughout America have fast-growing populations, but face crumbling and overstressed highways and consistent funding shortfalls. Clearly, something needs to change, but we should not sacrifice the quality of our roads — nor fairness to American taxpayers.

As we work to meet our transportation needs, we must think broadly and avoid Band-Aid solutions that will ultimately exacerbate the problem.

Some believe tolling existing highway infrastructure will alleviate these challenges. But tolling roads that have already been built and paid for with tax dollars amounts to nothing more than double taxation for the same asset; this is a practice that is fundamentally unfair. Consequently, I oppose any effort to place tolls on existing interstate highways.

Double taxation is not the only concern. Overemphasis on tolling has serious implications for community safety and local infrastructure. Studies show that motorists will change their driving patterns to bypass the tolls. This will redirect traffic from our highways to remaining free roads, and, in turn, congest our local streets, compromise neighborhood safety, and overburden small-capacity infrastructure.

Furthermore, tolls on existing interstates will divert truck traffic to other roads. A recent study predicted that a 25-cent-per-mile toll on an interstate highway would cause nearly half the trucks to divert to other routes. Many of the communities that would be impacted are not equipped to handle heavy commercial traffic, and the safety of local drivers could be put at risk by the increased presence of trucks on small roads.

I recently introduced legislation to prevent tolling of existing free federal highways, bridges, or tunnels built with federal funding, so that taxpayers are not taxed to use a road for which they’ve already paid. I’m for more highways and even tolls, when proposed the right way. The legislation does not prohibit tolls on new construction. If local communities and states want to cooperatively construct a toll road, they should be able to do so. If a state or community wants to expand its highways and toll for building new lanes, it can choose that alternative. In these situations, the taxpayers know exactly what they are getting. Many times a vote is required to approve these projects, but in any case, the taxpayers can hold the relevant officials accountable.

The debate on tolling illuminates the broader need to reform the federal highway program. Its antiquated funding formula — which has turned Texas, Florida, Arizona and others into donor states — is no longer serving the best interests of each state and its motorists. The inequity is compounded by the fact that many of the states donating the most gas-tax dollars also have some of the fastest-growing populations and the most congested cities, highways and freight routes. Our national transportation mission should evolve from constructing the federal-aid highway system to maintaining and improving infrastructure. This will help ensure that these penalized states don’t resort to Band-Aid solutions, such as tolling existing freeways.

In April, I introduced a bill that would permit states to opt out of this federal highway program and instead be rebated federal fuel taxes collected within their borders. Texas, for example, receives back 92 cents for every dollar sent to Washington. My bill would allow Texas and other states that are currently being shortchanged to finally see 100 percent of their gas-tax dollars from the highway account, and ensure that all of our funds could be used to improve transportation in Texas.

Washington shouldn’t take one state’s tax dollars and send them to other states. Likewise, American taxpayers shouldn’t be charged time and time again to drive on roads they already paid for with their hard-earned tax dollars.

Hutchison is the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Transportation Report: Ideology, not need, too often drives policy

This summer, we don’t have to look too hard for reminders of how integral transportation is to our daily lives and our economic future. Between rising gas prices, traffic congestion on weekend road trips, and high temperatures that are in part the result of global carbon pollution, it’s clear to us every day that our transportation network is critical to our way of life, the economy and our prosperity. We have all benefited from the transportation investments past generations made to enable our economy to function.

Unfortunately, subsequent generations have chosen to take those assets for granted while missing too many opportunities to lay the foundation for the next 100 years. Now, we have to seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity, assert federal leadership and forge a new transportation bill that reflects our nation’s 21st-century needs and priorities by setting the roadmap for national transportation policy.

For too long, national transportation policy has not been focused on need. Instead ideologically driven policies have suffocated our existing network of transit, reducing our ability to move cheaply, quickly and with limited carbon pollution. The lack of coordination, leadership and comprehensive vision has been striking. It created a federal policy that operates in segments (or “silos,” in policy lingo). Too often instead of solving problems, this approach has created new ones. It is time we broke free from the traditional geographic fights and instead invested in solutions that could meet our policy goals as a nation.

We need a fresh start that offers solid, workable solutions to address our extraordinary needs, and maintain, operate and upgrade our assets.

I represent a densely populated corridor state that does not have the luxury of putting off decisions on how to grow sustainably. For years we have been dealing with a transportation system bursting at the seams. As a result, we have had to think creatively about the use of transit, freight rail, buses and even ferries to keep the flow of commerce moving smoothly.

As chairman of the Senate Banking Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation and Community Affairs, I am hoping to apply the lessons we have learned in New Jersey and work with committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) to help craft a strong transportation bill. As the committee of jurisdiction for public transit, we are mindful that the previous administration seemed more concerned about transit justifying its existence rather trying to make transit flourish. The new bill must unleash transit because it is something that we understand is central to meet many of our nation’s core policy goals, including rebuilding the economy, creating jobs, fostering smart growth, increasing property values, ending our dependence on foreign oil and reducing carbon pollution.

Within his first month in office, President Obama signaled his strong commitment to infrastructure by delivering a record level of funding in a strong stimulus package that is already creating jobs and helping our economy recover. Congress needs to partner with the president to deliver ample funding in a robust authorization bill that recalibrates federal transportation, that is driven by data and performance in order to bring our transit network in line with the needs of our time. The initiative must have a focus on performance-based outcomes with accountability and objective metrics so we can methodically judge the results to see what is working and what is not. By changing the status quo, we will produce a cohesive and integrated approach that is cost-effective and uses the strengths our transportation infrastructure provides to propel our economy, through the 21st century and beyond.

Menendez is chairman of the Housing, Transportation and Community Development Subcommittee of the Senate Banking Committee.

Transportation Report: Adequate funding for rivers critical to economy, ecology and recreation

I, for one, have been grateful to see a renewed focus on our infrastructure this year. While the so-called “stimulus” continues to be a letdown on this front, I do applaud the fact it has gotten people talking about our infrastructure needs. But as we work to improve our roads, rails and runways we must not forget the fourth “R,” our rivers. Our rivers provide amazing resources that can simultaneously provide transportation, recreation and conservation.

According to the American Waterway Operators, 15 percent of the cargo shipped across our nation is carried via our inland waterways. This includes every gallon of jet fuel pumped onto planes at O’Hare International Airport, 20 percent of the coal we burn and more than 60 percent of our grain exports. In doing so, each barge takes more than 200 rail cars off our tracks or more than 1,000 trucks off our roads. Shipping via barge not only eases congestion along our roads and rails, but it also lessens the pollutants in the air, emitting 39 percent less CO2 than locomotives and 371 percent less CO2 than trucks.

However, without an immediate investment in our waterways we will lose access to this economical and ecological advantage. The infrastructure that makes inland navigation possible is outdated and degraded. Most of the locks on our rivers were designed for Mark Twain’s steamboat, not today’s needs. In fact the locks in and around my district are approaching their 80th birthday and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Even at their best, these locks are poor substitutes for the needed infrastructure. And these locks are far from their best. Every year the locks lose 10 percent of their capacity to unplanned maintenance closures. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) is doing its best to keep these locks working, but sooner or later the patch will stop working and one of these dinosaurs will fail. Should such a failure happen, the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute estimates our national economy will take a $645 million and $806 million hit every year the locks remain out of service.

To right this wrong, a coalition ranging from the Audubon Society to the American Farm Bureau, from the Corn Growers to the Carpenters Union have banded together to lobby for new 1,200-foot locks that will not only alleviate the need for costly repairs of the existing facilities but also cut lockage times in half.

The Navigation and Ecosystem Restoration Project, or NESP, seeks to address these problems by constructing seven new locks on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. This Corps program also recognizes that these rivers are not only blue highways and authorizes $1.6 billion for repairs to these amazingly diverse ecosystems.

The Illinois and Mississippi rivers provide habitat for more than 25 percent of North America’s fish species and 60 percent of the North American bird species. These fish and fowl provide alluring targets for the millions of hunters and anglers who flock to the region. But in order to keep these fish and fishermen, ducks and duck hunters coming back to my district every year, we need to ensure that there is adequate habitat.

Other programs have shown that programs such as NESP can be successful. Just outside of my district is the largest restoration of a floodplain in the United States. The Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge currently contains more than 2,000 acres and is expected to grow to more than 11,000 acres. Since the effort to restore the land begun in 1993, the Corps, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and nongovernmental groups such as the Nature Conservancy have worked to create backwaters, marshes and lakes that are now teeming with wildlife and wildlife lovers.

On another part of the Illinois River, the Corps is conducting a variety of ecosystem restoration projects collectively labeled the Illinois River Basin Restoration. The efforts conducted under this program are part of a 20-year state/federal plan to restore and enhance the 300,000-square-mile river basin. As one small example of this program in action, the Corps is conducting a project across the river from my hometown of Peoria that will use the material dredged from the navigation channel to build islands in the river. These islands provide perfect nesting zones for birds and slow-moving water for fish habitat.

As we construct and reclaim habitat we must also ensure the quality of the waters in these habitats. We must work to lessen the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus being carried by our rivers. We must reward farmers for employing buffer strips between farm ground and water bodies and using other techniques that protect the quality of our water. Specifically, we must support programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program, (CRP) the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) and Environment Quality Incentive Program (EQIP). Additionally, we must ensure that communities have the resources they need to ensure their wastewater systems are not causing damage to our water bodies.

Through these actions we can create a river system that provides for our needs and the needs of our environment.

Schock is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Transportation Report: Congress must reauthorize and expand TIFIA

In February, Congress passed and President Obama signed landmark economic recovery legislation. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) allocated billions of dollars for infrastructure projects, in the form of direct payments from the federal government to transit agencies and state and local governments. ARRA was designed to jumpstart the economy as quickly as possible, putting people back to work and getting markets moving again. The federal government can give grants to local agencies and governments quickly, enabling them to get contracts signed and people hired within months. Transportation and infrastructure projects won’t solve our economic crisis, but they will help us move toward recovery and, ultimately, long-term prosperity.

Transportation and infrastructure projects have the added bonus of improving our nation’s roads, bridges, mass transit systems, railroads and airports, which have been neglected for far too many years. Crumbling levees and collapsing bridges aren’t the only evidence we see of inadequate infrastructure — many people in many parts of the country experience crowded on-ramps or too-narrow roads that slow traffic to a crawl on a daily basis.

The federal government, however, has only a limited amount of money it can devote to transportation and infrastructure projects, especially now, when the country faces such a broad range of economic challenges, including two wars, the rising cost of healthcare and a faltering financial industry.

For this reason, innovative programs like the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program have become critical. It is clear that the TIFIA program should be reauthorized; it should also be enlarged and given greater flexibility. And now is the time, as Congress develops legislation to authorize a new surface transportation law.

TIFIA was established by the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 1998.  The TIFIA program enables the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to provide credit to state and local governments, transit agencies and other eligible applicants for transportation projects of national or regional significance. Under TIFIA, the DOT can provide three forms of credit assistance — direct loans, loan guarantees and standby lines of credit.

Direct loans enable local governments and agencies to borrow directly from the DOT. Loan guarantees enable local governments and agencies to borrow from a third-party lender with the added security of the federal government guaranteeing the loan. Finally, a TIFIA line of credit provides a project with a contingent loan that can be drawn upon to supplement project revenues, if necessary.

The federal government thus plays a role in supplementing other funding sources for transportation projects, rather than providing the funding itself. And the federal government is a good lender. Because of its inherently long-term investment horizon, it can absorb the short-term risks of financing transportation projects. It can also provide credit at a low interest rate and with flexible repayment terms. Finally, TIFIA’s range of options allows the government to provide each transportation project the type of credit that is most appropriate for it.

In the past decade, we have seen that TIFIA works. Since 1998, $4.8 billion in TIFIA assistance has leveraged more than $18.6 billion in transportation project investments. In my home state, the Texas Department of Transportation used a financing package that included a TIFIA direct loan to fund the Central Texas Turnpike Project, which covered 65 miles of three intersecting national highways in the Austin-San Antonio corridor. The project relieved congestion in the fast-growing region, making Interstate 35 safer in the process, and it opened in phases, several ahead of schedule. As another example, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority used a TIFIA direct loan to build the 183-A Turnpike, a new tolled highway in metropolitan Austin, which opened in March 2007, on time and on budget. Indeed, TIFIA has grown so popular that demand far outstrips available funds.

The TIFIA program’s success can be measured in other ways, too. To date, the federal government hasn’t lost a single cent through its investments. Borrowers have paid back all of the money they have borrowed, with interest. And to ensure that taxpayers are never subjected to too much risk, TIFIA includes safeguards. For example, each credit instrument has a maximum maturity of 35 years after a project’s substantial completion.

In February, the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission released “Paying Our Way: A New Framework for Transportation Financing,” a report that called for reauthorizing TIFIA, but with more credit capacity and flexibility. At the beginning of June, I introduced H.R. 2663, the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) of 2009. The bill increases the share of overall project cost that can come from the TIFIA program, from 33 percent to 49 percent of the anticipated eligible project cost, and authorizes $285 million in budget authority per year over the life of the bill, up from $122 million.

Incorporating TIFIA reauthorization and expansion into the upcoming surface transportation bill is the right thing to do. TIFIA is exactly the type of innovative and effective program that we need right now.

Johnson is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Development.