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US DOT: Remarks for the Honorable Mary Peters Secretary of Transportation Portland Business Alliance Portland, or October 15, 2007 12:30 PM
[October 16, 2007]

US DOT: Remarks for the Honorable Mary Peters Secretary of Transportation Portland Business Alliance Portland, or October 15, 2007 12:30 PM

(M2 PressWIRE Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)

Thank you, Sandy McDonough, for that kind introduction. It is great to
be in Portland with all of you.

Each time I visit, I am impressed by the way people in Oregon show the
kind of leadership that makes this state and this country so great.
Here in Portland, I see that leadership in businesses that continue to
invest and innovate. I see that leadership in local officials working
hard to strengthen the regions business environment. And, I see that
leadership in your commitment to developing transportation policies
that support growth while enhancing quality of life.

People in Washington, D.C., have a lot to learn about leadership from
places like Portland. Nowhere is that more apparent to me than in the
current debate about the state of the nations infrastructure in the
wake of the tragic collapse of the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis back in

While many state and local officials have already come to recognize the
urgency of our transportation problems, it took a nationally televised
tragedy to get people in our nations capital talking about what is
wrong with our roads and bridges.

We must continue to properly maintain our highways and bridges. But it
would be irresponsible to say that our bridges and roads are anything
but safe. Since 1994, we have successfully reduced the percentage of
bridges that are structurally deficient from 19 percent to 12 percent.

While the condition of our roads and bridges is getting better, there
is absolutely no question that the way we invest in them is broken.
Money that should be going to maintain roads, build new highways, and
reduce congestion is going instead to restore lighthouses and build new

Washington mandates are increasingly overriding state priorities. For
example, the number of earmarked projects has grown from a handful in
the mid-1980s to over 6,000 in 2005 valued at a staggering $23 billion.

This addiction to earmarks is an even larger problem when you consider
that, on average, earmarks cover only 10 percent of the total cost of a
project. Imagine how your neighbor would react if you told him you
bought him a new, $300 lawnmower--all he needed to do was chip in the
other $270 to make up the difference. All of this while what he really
needed was a hose.

Not only does Washington lack the discipline to get the money where it
is needed most, but the system for financing, building, and operating
roads and bridges does nothing to address the single greatest problem
facing transportation the rapid growth in traffic congestion.

In the early 1980s, the average commuter in Portland spent 13 hours a
year stuck in traffic. Now that same commuter is spending nearly three
times as many hours a total of 38 a year in delays. The story is the
same across the country, with gridlock resulting in billions of lost
hours and billions of gallons of wasted fuel.

Delay and fuel costs, though, are only part of the story. In too many
parts of the country, our roads are no longer reliable. A cross-town
trip might take 30 minutes, or it might take two hours. As a result,
commuters and businesses are budgeting a lot more time for each trip
robbing families of valuable time together and cutting into businesses
bottom lines.

Instead of tackling congestion, some in Washington, D.C., have jumped
at the bridge collapse to call for increases in the federal gas tax.
This misses the point. Our roads are not backed up and our commutes are
not unpredictable because of a lack of spending. Over the last 25
years, we have increased spending by 100 percent, even after adjusting
for inflation.

All the while, traffic delays in metropolitan areas have grown by
almost 300 percent. And future gas tax increases will be just as
ineffective in fighting the growing gridlock.

Proposing new federal gas tax increases is not leadership it is
ludicrous. According to recent surveys, the public overwhelmingly
opposes the idea of raising them. They have no confidence that their
gas taxes which go into the Highway Trust Fund will be spent either
wisely or well. Washingtons misplaced priorities have caused Americans
to lose trust in the trust fund. They are tired of paying for excellent
bridges to nowhere and horrible commutes to everywhere else. And I do
not blame them one bit.

Americans are also growing increasingly concerned with our reliance on
foreign sources of oil, saving fuel, and a cleaner environment. So, it
also makes absolutely no sense to raise the gas tax at a time when we
are exploring every feasible way to increase energy independence,
promote fuel economy in automobiles, stimulate alternative fuel
development, and reduce emissions.

We need a new approach, and the sooner the better.

We need the kind of leadership that says the people stuck in traffic
every day on 26, 99W, or I-5 ought to be making the decisions about
where to build new roads and how to pay for them.

We need the kind of leadership that is willing to explore new ways to
pay for road projects that not only generate revenue for re-investment
but actually reduce congestion and protect the environment at the same

We need to begin acknowledging that we can substantially reduce traffic
congestion and that we can do it in most cases in a matter of months.

We only need to convince five-to-10 percent of the people on a
rush-hour highway to shift trip times or travel plans in order to
largely solve the congestion problem. It is not such a heavy lift when
you consider that new data shows that almost half of the people on a
rush-hour highway are not taking work trips, and almost a quarter are

But we cannot wish people off rush-hour roads just because they may
have flexible schedules. We need to look instead at innovative measures
like mileage fees or electronic tolling, which use technology to adjust
road charges based on miles traveled, the time of day, or traffic

Cell phone companies bill for the minutes we actually use and create
capacity by charging us during peak hours and giving us free weekend
minutes. Why cant we do the same for our roads? The revenues generated
from these tolls will allow us to expand highways and transit systems
in the same corridors where the money originated. That makes a lot more
sense than sending the money to Washington where strings are attached
and administrative costs are taken out before it can come back to

The Beaver State is ahead of the curve in recognizing that the gas tax
is the relic of a by-gone era. People here are not waiting for people
in Washington, D.C., to talk our way out of traffic or declining gas
tax receipts. Instead of spending endless time and relentless rhetoric
debating the issue, leaders here in Oregon are taking chances and doing
something creative about traffic and transportation funding.

Over the past year, this states Road User Fee Pilot tested a new way to
pay for roads, which relied on GPS and other advanced technology to
administer the program and collect the per-mile fees as an alternative
to the gas tax. Preliminary results show that 91 percent of those
surveyed said they would pay a mileage fee if the program were expanded

Innovative approaches like this and other options like congestion
pricing can provide substantial traffic, environmental, and energy
saving benefits. But, these are just the beginning.

There are many ways to reduce the enormous costs of congestion, and to
raise funds more effectively than the gas tax does to help states and
cities build and maintain critical roads, bridges, and transit systems.

Oregon recognizes these options and is taking yet another innovative
approach to improving the movement of people and products by joining
with California and Washington state to reduce regional congestion
along Interstate-5.

In fact, I-5 was recently selected as one of the Departments Corridors
of the Future as part of our national congestion relief effort. Under
this program, the I-5 corridor will receive approximately $15 million
to invest in the Columbia border crossing. This major bottleneck causes
over 600,000 hours of delay for trucks annually. Improving the movement
of freight between Oregon and Washington will pay enormous dividends
for this city and this region.

These creative approaches demand that all of us think differently about
highways. We need to come to terms with the fact that there is no such
thing as a free highway. More importantly, we need to come to terms
with the fact that these approaches require leadership leadership to
recognize that our current policies are broken, leadership to embrace
new ways to fund and manage our roads, and leadership to stake
reputations on promises to cut traffic.

Oregon is demonstrating that kind of leadership. And there is no better
time than now for the rest of the country to follow suit.

Let us turn the tragedy of the I-35W bridge collapse into something
positive. Let us forget the broken tactics of the past. Let us embrace
new solutions designed to meet todays challenges. And let us do
everything we can to support and encourage more of the kind of
leadership it is going to take to make our roads work for us again.

Americans want and deserve leadership. Let us give it to them.

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