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Improving The Transportation Bill

The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Dold) for 5 minutes.

Rep. Robert Dold

legislator photo

Madam Speaker, one of the core functions of the government is to invest in infrastructure and transportation. This is not a Republican idea or a Democrat idea. It's an American one. At a time when people are so desperately looking for Washington to come together, this is an issue that we should and can work together on.

This week we're debating the transportation bill. While there are many great qualities about this bill, there is still a need--and I would argue a great need--to improve it. That's why I am pleased that there are literally hundreds of amendments to try to strengthen this bill.

I hail from the State of Illinois. Illinois is a donor State, which means that we are putting in more transportation funds than we are receiving back from the Federal Government. That is why I am concerned by the cuts facing our State. We stand to lose almost $650 million. As one of the largest manufacturing hubs of the country, our region cannot afford to lose this critical funding. Our transportation funds help strengthen our local economy and keep jobs at home.

Let me be clear. There are some very good steps in this bill that I believe we all should be able to embrace. The bill provides long-term certainty to States when they're planning their transportation projects. We haven't had a transportation bill in a number of years, since 2005; and this would provide 5 years of stability. It includes numerous reforms that enable States to cut through red tape and speed up the completion of projects, many taking about 15 years today, which would be going down to 7 or 8 years in the future.

I'm pleased that the bill strengthens the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which impacts places like Waukegan Harbor. Waukegan Harbor is a critical part of the Great Lakes harbor system and helps bring jobs home to the 10th District, which so desperately needs them.

That being said, there are several aspects about this bill that need to be resolved. One of my major areas of concern is that of the environment. Madam Speaker, the bill would open a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, also referred to as ANWR, to oil and gas drilling. For over 50 years, the development of ANWR has been debated greatly. We have an obligation to be good stewards of our national treasures and fiscally responsible in funding our Nation's infrastructure. However, including the Arctic refuge drilling provision will greatly complicate the transportation bill moving forward and make agreement with the Senate far more difficult. ANWR should be the last resort, not the first one.

I'm also concerned with the future sustainability of transit funding. In the Chicagoland region, we depend on mass transit to lessen the congestion on our roads and to get people to and from work. We do this far more efficiently with mass transit. Fifty percent more people would be on area highways and interstates if it were not for mass transit.

So think about that. For the people back there that have driven through Chicago, if we were to add an additional 50 percent on the already congested roads, it would make life far more difficult for moving goods and services around and for getting people to and from work. This is not what we need. Mass transit is a vital program and one that we need to preserve. We need to have the certainty out there for funding. In Illinois, our State will face a $137 million shortfall each and every year if this bill is enacted as it stands right now. This is unacceptable.

With all this being said, I believe that we have much to do, and we can work together to build a transportation bill that gives States the ability to plan for the long term and complete projects faster. But we do not need to do so at the detriment of mass transit or the environment. So let's work together and make this a better bill that we can all be proud of and move our country forward.