Washington, D.C. – Opening remarks, as prepared, of Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairman Rick Crawford (R-AR) from today’s hearing, entitled “Oversight of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act: Modal Perspectives”:
Good morning. I thank each of our witnesses for being here today. The Undersecretary and the four modal administrators before us represent the full scope of the jurisdiction of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. However, despite this subcommittee’s long record of bipartisan oversight efforts, we have not had any modal administrators before us since 2019.
Today’s witnesses can help provide clarity on a myriad of issues related to the implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) as they, and the people and programs they represent, play a pivotal role in the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) efforts to enact this legislation.
Just last month, we marked two years since the passage of IIJA, which provided historic funding increases for America’s infrastructure, including over half a trillion dollars for programs under this subcommittee’s jurisdiction. IIJA significantly increased funding for existing programs, created new programs with new eligibilities, and increased, by nearly 500 percent, the amount of competitive grant funding the Secretary will award. The five-year average funding provided by IIJA for the modes under this subcommittee’s jurisdiction increased by approximately 80 percent compared to the levels in the last surface reauthorization bill, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.
In the two years since IIJA became law, persistent inflation has pushed up prices. Transportation and infrastructure projects and the companies that provide products and services in those sectors have not been immune to these rising costs. Prices on necessary materials such as concrete and aggregates, pipes, steel and iron, construction equipment, and labor have all remained high since the passage of IIJA. In September, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) released updated data for its National Highway Construction Cost Index (NHCCI). What Federal Highways found was in the first quarter of 2023, the Construction Index reached a new, all-time high. Furthermore, according to the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, highway construction costs have increased in 9 out of the last 10 quarters, and compared to the last quarter of 2020, highway construction costs increased 53.8%.
The expected increase in purchasing power provided by IIJA has, therefore, greatly diminished. Not only am I concerned about inflationary pressures on IIJA and its projects, but as I have said many times before, the Administration’s focus should be on enacting the legislation as written, not on pushing progressive policy proposals that didn’t make it into the final law.
For example, the day before Thanksgiving, when I’m sure all of us were focused on refreshing the Department’s website just waiting for an important proclamation, FHWA announced that it had, at lightning speed, finalized the rule to create a new greenhouse gas performance measure to cut tailpipe emissions stemming from transportation on the National Highway System. I understand you all have seemingly been tasked by the White House with tackling climate change first and your core missions second, but our concern is that during consideration of IIJA, the Senate considered this policy proposal and expressly excluded it from the final legislation. There is simply no Congressional mandate or provided authority to take this action.
Another example: DOT, with strong direction from the Policy Office, has been using its funding notices for discretionary grant programs to layer on requirements that do not exist in statute. And while we’ve received press release after press release announcing funding awards, these are not legally binding documents. I think we can all agree that federal money has plenty of strings attached to it by Congress. There’s no reason to add even more at the agency level.
I am also very concerned at the extremely slow rate that these grant agreements are being negotiated among the parties, and signed — since, according to the numbers, they aren’t. You advertise that you’re making grants, but the money isn’t going out the door and projects aren’t being done.
I could go on, but I will simply reiterate the message from our shared transportation stakeholders: slow execution of contracts and confusing guidance documents have the very real risk of delaying critical transportation projects, which are necessary to move people and freight safely and efficiently throughout the country. Even though I did not support IIJA, it is the law, and I will ensure the resources provided by Congress are addressing our most pressing transportation, safety, infrastructure, and supply chain needs, which I know is a shared, bipartisan goal of all of us here in the room today.
The bill was not a blank check for this administration to pursue ancillary social or environmental policies unrelated to the nation’s transportation systems. This committee will work with DOT and the agencies represented here to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and prudently on the real infrastructure improvements our nation requires.
Once again, I thank our witnesses for appearing before the Committee today and look forward to a productive dialogue.
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