[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin today asked the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) to include his Protecting Taxpayers in Transportation Asset Transfers Act in their bill to reauthorize the Surface Transportation Act.
Also included in today’s letter was a list of Illinois priorities that Durbin would like to see incorporated in the EPW committee’s legislation including: funding formulas that ensure a more equitable share of federal highway dollars for Illinois; an extension of the TIGER grant program; mitigation options for communities dealing the negative impacts of increased freight traffic; and programs to improve the safety and efficiency of rural roads. Durbin will be sending additional priorities over the next few weeks to the two other committees that have jurisdiction over the next Surface Transportation bill.
“Illinois, as the road, rail and aviation hub of the country, is in dire need of increased investment to upgrade our aging transportation network,” wrote Durbin. “The next reauthorization can help make a significant dent in our infrastructure deficit if we increase investments in transportation. Our economic competitiveness depends on having a transportation network that can move people and goods quickly, safely and with minimal impact to the environment.”
Durbin’s Protecting Taxpayers in Transportation Asset Transfers Act, introduced in the Senate last month, would protect taxpayer investment in major infrastructure projects when local and state governments privatize roads, airports and other transportation facilities and require increased transparency and public involvement before major transportation projects can be leased or sold. It would attach a federal lien on all transportation projects that have received federal funding in excess of $25 million or federal funding and have a value over $500 million. This lien will not be released until federal funds are repaid and the parties agree to take action to increase transparency and public input in the privatization transaction.
[Text of the letter is below]
July 13, 2011
The Hon. Barbara Boxer
Committee on Environment and
410 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
The Hon. Jim Inhofe
Committee on Environment and
456 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Chairman Boxer and Ranking Member Inhofe:
As your Committee prepares to begin work on a surface transportation reauthorization bill, I would like to bring to your attention important transportation issues I hope you can incorporate into your legislation.
Illinois is the transportation hub of North America and this next reauthorization bill will have a significant impact on the transportation network in my state and the country. Dozens of non-partisan commissions, studies and academics have outlined the huge infrastructure deficit facing the nation. Illinois, as the road, rail and aviation hub of the country, is in dire need of increased investment to upgrade our aging transportation network.
The next reauthorization can help make a significant dent in our infrastructure deficit if we increase investments in transportation. Our economic competitiveness depends on having a transportation network that can move people and goods quickly, safely and with minimal impact to the environment. Building and maintaining this type of transportation network will require a significant increase of transportation investments over current levels.
In addition to increasing investments, I respectfully urge you to consider the following issues as your Committee considers a surface transportation bill:
Equitable Funding for Illinois
Illinois has historically received a lower share of federal highway dollars relative to the amount of federal fuel taxes Illinois contributes to the Highway Trust Fund. This imbalance means Illinois receives a lower percentage of highway funding than it needs to maintain an efficient and safe transportation network. The highway formulas your Committee creates should ensure a greater share of federal highway dollars for Illinois.
Taxpayer Protection in Privatization of Federally Funded Transportation Assets
I recently introduced S. 1230 the Protecting Taxpayers in Transportation Asset Transfers Act. This legislation creates responsible rules governing public-private partnerships for existing transportation infrastructure.
States and local communities are increasingly looking to sell or lease existing infrastructure to fill local budget deficits. Many of these public assets were built and maintained with federal taxpayer dollars. I encourage you to require local governments to repay past federal investment before selling or leasing transportation infrastructure built and maintained by the federal government. It is important for federal taxpayers to receive a return on their investment instead of letting federal funds turn into a windfall for private entities and local governments.
I also encourage you to require greater public participation and transparency of privatization deals involving federally funded transportation assets. Private interests buying or leasing existing transportation assets should disclose the estimated amount of profit, including tax benefits they expect to receive over the life of the lease or sale of the publicly funded transportation assets. Similarly, public owners of federally funded transportation assets should give the public ample time to review and comment before transportation assets can be sold or leased.
Support Bicycle and Pedestrian Infrastructure
The Committee should reject efforts to bar federal funding for bicycle and pedestrian programs. Dedicated funding streams for bike and pedestrian infrastructure has improved street safety and created alternatives to driving. The next transportation bill should consider all modes of transportation, not just highways.
TIGER Grant Authorization
I joined Senators Murray and Collins in introducing S. 942, the “Transportation Infrastructure Grants and Economic Reinvestment Act.” This legislation will authorize the TIGER grant program which was created in the Recovery Act. The TIGER grant program allows local communities to apply directly to the DOT for funding of nationally significant transportation projects. This new program is especially helpful to communities engaged in multimodal projects that improve connections to different transportation networks. I encourage you to work with the Banking and Commerce Committees to include this important program in the next transportation bill.
Rail Traffic Mitigation Assistance for Communities
Shifting more freight to our railways is a cleaner, cheaper and more environmentally friendly way to move goods. However, this increased freight often brings with it greater noise, vibrations and blocked traffic at grade crossings. I encourage you to include programs and policies that will help local communities mitigate the negative impacts of increased freight traffic.
Greater Local Control of Federal Transportation Funds
Local communities can often deliver transportation projects more efficiently when they receive transportation dollars directly. Cities and towns can also achieve national transportation goals like congestion reduction, air quality improvement and safety in innovative ways when they have the opportunity to access financing directly. I encourage you to include targeted, mode-neutral investment opportunities to help cities and their metropolitan areas improve their transportation systems.
Rural Road Improvement and Safety
This transportation bill should not lose focus on America's rural transportation system. Our national economy depends on keeping agricultural products, commodities and intermodal freight moving. I encourage you to include programs to improve the safety and efficiency of our rural roads.
SAFETEA-LU expired October 1, 2009. Almost all parties agree we need a long-term transportation authorization to ensure the stability of our national transportation program. However, the House of Representatives is pursuing a six-year authorization bill that will reduce funding for transportation by more than 30 percent. The House bill, if passed, would mark the first time Congress reduced funding levels for transportation in a reauthorization in decades. Given the choice between a six-year bill with severe reductions and a short-term bill with increased funding levels, I encourage you to support the short-term option as I believe it would best serve the needs of Illinois and the nation.
Thank you for the consideration of my views. I look forward to working with you to providing our country with a transportation system that will keep us competitive in the 21st century economy.
Richard J. Durbin