The Need for Speed
Moving federal projects forward
Rep. Mica is serving his ninth term in Congress, representing Florida’s 7th Congressional District. Mica serves as the Republican Leader of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which oversees transportation funding, safety and infrastructure. Rep. Mica is also a senior Member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and former Chairman of two of its Subcommittees.
Rep. John Mica (R.-Fla.) is a national leader on key transportation issues. He sat down with Road King to discuss his goals for the year ahead.
Q: You have said there is no legislation more capable of jump-starting the economy than a fully funded six-year transportation and infrastructure bill. What are your priorities as you move forward?
A: Some of my highest priorities for the surface transportation reauthorization bill include adopting legislation that outlines a national strategic plan for transportation infrastructure investment and streamlining the transportation project approval process. Federal red tape adds significantly, and unnecessarily, to the time and costs associated with undertaking many projects. We need to build up our deteriorating infrastructure, improving transportation safety and increasing the efficiency of commerce. The bill also should target investments that can truly help put Americans back to work. Every $1 billion invested in infrastructure creates or sustains approximately 30,000 jobs.
Q: You proposed a 437-Day Plan that would expedite federally funded transportation projects. How can Congress reduce the approval process while still protecting the environment?
A: When the Minnesota I-35W bridge collapsed in 2007, the replacement bridge was contracted to be completed in just 437 days, whereas a similar project would have normally taken seven to eight years. The collapse was seen as an emergency and actions were taken to complete the project without delays. We are now in an economic emergency, and there’s no reason we can’t speed up the process for other projects.
However, expediting the process does not mean running roughshod over the environment. By conducting time-consuming federal reviews of projects concurrently, rather than in sequence, we can dramatically cut the length of the process while still ensuring due consideration of environmental impacts. We can also eliminate duplication in documentation and procedures, hand over more authority in the approval process to states and reasonably limit opportunities for opponents to block projects.
Q: The highway trust fund, which pays for transportation projects through fuel taxes, is nearly broke. How do you propose funding transportation needs while protecting professional truckers from increased costs?
A: With growing fuel efficiency, increased use of alternative fuels and the economy’s impact on Americans’ driving habits, the gas tax can no longer provide the level of funding needed to maintain the transportation system this country needs to prosper. There are a number of potential options for replacing the gas tax, such as innovative financing, bonding, setting rules for tolling new highway capacity, and better definitions of public-private partnerships. I believe it will take a combination of sources.
Q: With public-private partnerships, states sell roads or portions of roads to private firms that charge tolls to make a profit. How will you protect drivers from paying for a road twice — once with fuel taxes and again with a toll?
A: Taking advantage of private sector resources to improve infrastructure must be part of the funding solution, and well-defined tolling options can provide us more access to those private sector tools. However, truckers and the rest of the public have a reasonable expectation for the federal government to maintain the existing Interstate System without introducing new tolls. I share this belief. Tolling through public-private ventures can help fund our transportation needs, but it should be considered only in the proper circumstances and should not interfere with existing free highway capacity.
Q: In July, you pointed out that the stimulus was largely funding repaving projects. What can be done to ensure more significant projects are funded?
A: Congress should have cut federal red tape when it approved the stimulus. States instead have been forced to focus on minor projects such as repaving, because larger projects that could have more impact on long-term employment had too many hoops to jump through to be considered “shovel-ready.”
Passing a surface transportation reauthorization that includes a 437-Day Plan will be critical to preventing many significant future projects from becoming needlessly bogged down in the wasteful bureaucracy. By doing so, we can get this country moving more quickly on projects to cut congestion, improve safety and put people to work.
The views expressed in Trucking Matters are those of the interview subject and do not necessarily reflect the views of Road King, its editors or affiliates of Road King. If you have questions for future Trucking Matters columns, please send them to email@example.com.