The Road Ahead
Sen. David Vitter talks about the new highway bill
By Mindy Long
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is one of the country’s most influential lawmakers working on transportation legislation today. He currently sits on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee as well as the Subcommittee on Transportation Safety, Infrastructure Security and Water Quality. He also sits on the Committees on Armed Services; Banking, Housing and Urban Development; and Small Business and Entrepreneurship. He has been serving in the Senate since 2004.
Q This year Congress passed MAP-21, (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century). What are you most proud of in this highway funding law?
A The Highway Bill, or MAP-21, has really been the only true jobs bill that Congress passed this year. Our economy is struggling right now and unemployment hovers around 8.1 percent, therefore it was crucial that we put Americans back to work. MAP-21 does that by giving states’ departments of transportation financial certainty and flexibility to move forward on projects where they couldn’t under previously passed extensions of the transportation bill. We also streamlined the project delivery process by holding the Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies accountable for expediting environmental reviews and documents. Many transportation infrastructure projects have languished under bureaucracy in the past, but MAP-21 allows for projects to move quicker to construction with less environmental hurdles. This will put more Americans to work more quickly. I’m also very proud to say we accomplished this with zero earmarks.
Q How does the law affect the highway system and the movement of goods?
A Two major policies we addressed in MAP-21 were the establishment of a performance-based Federal highway program and a new strategic freight program. The new performance-based planning and programming will focus on national transportation goals, increase accountability and transparency of Federal and state agencies, and improve infrastructure decision-making between local, state and the Federal government. By requiring better performance measures and incorporating a primary freight network, we are able to better target our transportation investment, improve the utilization of limited resources, and provide for the efficient and effective movement of goods and services.
Q How does the law balance immediate transportation needs with long-term transportation needs?
A MAP-21 consolidated many highway-funding programs into six major core programs. One of those core programs is the National Highway Performance Program, which receives more than half of the highway program’s funding. This program gives states more flexibility on how they can spend highway dollars so that new infrastructure can be built and deteriorating infrastructure can be repaired. Another tool to address our immediate transportation needs is the expediting of critical highway projects by reducing Federal bureaucracy at agencies responsible for the approval of these infrastructure projects.
Q How are you working to increase energy production within the U.S.?
A In 2011 I introduced a bill, 3-D: The Domestic Jobs, Domestic Energy, and Deficit Reduction Act of 2011, which would create more than two million jobs, $10 trillion in economic activity and $2 trillion in federal tax receipts (according to conservative 30-year estimates) by unleashing America’s vast domestic energy potential. A key component, and much of what I’ve been fighting for in the Senate, is increasing offshore production.
One significant energy concern I have related to our infrastructure needs is President Obama’s policies, which could lead to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) becoming more insolvent over time. Particularly, increased fuel economy standards could lead to less revenue to HTF, and I am concerned with the safety of vehicles on the road if our auto manufacturers have trouble meeting the new mandates. Also, the current price of gas serves as an anchor on our economy, which also reduces consumption, therefore reducing revenue to the HTF.