Capito: DRIVE Act Needed to Advance Critical Highway Projects
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) spoke on the Senate floor today in support of the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act, a six year highway bill that will increase federal transportation funding, further economic growth and give West Virginia the ability to finish critical projects and repair our crumbling roads, bridges and highways. The bipartisan bill unanimously passed the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which Senator Capito is a member of, and is now being considered on the Senate floor.
Watch Senator Capito’s floor speech here.
Remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Mister President, I rise in strong support of the DRIVE Act.
“I want to commend Chairman Inhofe and Ranking Member Boxer for their bipartisan work on this bill that passed out of the Environment and Public Works Committee with a unanimous vote.
“A long-term highway solution like the DRIVE Act will provide states with the certainty they need to advance major road and bridge projects.
“Passing a six year highway bill would be a great achievement for this Congress, especially in the context of our recent history, and I am hopeful that we will seize this opportunity.
“As a member of the House Transportation Committee, I strongly supported the last long-term highway bill that helped build major roads in West Virginia and around the country.
“The 2005 highway bill was extended ten separate times between 2009 and 2012.
“During that period, states were only assured federal funding for a period of weeks or months – making lasting improvements of our highway infrastructure difficult.
“As we saw between 2009 and 2012, several short term extensions result in fewer yet more costly fixes.
“In 2012, we passed MAP-21 to reauthorize the highway program for two years. I served as a conferee on that legislation.
“MAP-21 was a strong, bipartisan achievement that included a number of important reforms to streamline project delivery and help states complete projects more efficiently. But ultimately, MAP-21 was a two year bill.
“Since MAP-21, we have had more of the same. Short term extension after short term extension.
“This recent history shows just how significant this opportunity is.
“We have before us a bipartisan, fiscally responsible bill that will provide the certainty our states need to improve the nation’s highway system for several years.
“I am encouraged by the bipartisan vote last night to move to debate, and I hope my colleagues will continue to work together to make the DRIVE Act law.
“West Virginians rely heavily on roads, bridges and highways to fuel our economy, to access hard to reach areas in our state, to get to and from work and to transport necessary goods and services.
“West Virginians understand the need to pass a long-term highway bill. Nearly one third of our state’s major roads are currently in poor condition.
“The Federal Highway Administration lists 960 West Virginia bridges as structurally deficient.
“The DRIVE Act will increase funding for maintaining and repairing these bridges.
“The bill prioritizes maintenance of our major roads – helping to address the current state of disrepair on highways across the country.
“Each West Virginia motorist pays an average of $575 a year in extra maintenance expenses each year due to poor road conditions.
“The DRIVE Act will help states address maintenance and repair, meaning safer and less costly trips for our drivers.
“The certainty that comes from a long term highway bill is important for maintaining our existing roads, but it is absolutely critical to advance new projects.
“Large highway projects are expensive, multi-year endeavors.
“States cannot plan for the future based on federal funding commitments that last only weeks or months.
“Whether the issue is relieving traffic congestion, improving access to rural communities to fuel economic development, or moving freight across the country, the DRIVE Act will help the most important projects move forward.
“In West Virginia, U.S. Route 35 in Putnam and Mason counties is one of our most critical highway projects.
“Route 35 is an important freight link for trucks transporting goods between the Southeast and the Midwest.
“With only two-lanes, Route 35 was an extremely dangerous road as interstate truck traffic shared the road with school buses, farm equipment, and local drivers.
“Thanks in large part to the 2005 highway bill, the majority of Route 35 is now a four-lane highway.
“State efforts to complete the remaining 14 miles of Route 35 are well under way.
“But the DRIVE Act will aid efforts to get that project across the finish line.
“The DRIVE Act will also help build Corridor H for residents in central and eastern West Virginia, an important part of the Appalachian Development Highway system.
“When this road is completed, it will link counties in central West Virginia with the Interstate 81 corridor, improving safety and providing economic development opportunities for our communities.
“Whether it is Route 35, Corridor H, the Coalfields Expressway, the King Coal Highway, or other high priority projects across our state and the country, states need the certainty that comes from dedicated federal investment to move forward.
“A long-term highway bill also means jobs for construction workers.
“According to the West Virginia Contractors Association, construction employment in my state fell by 11.3 percent between November 2013 and November 2014.
“Passing a highway bill that supports investment in our roads and bridges will help put these men and women back to work.
“Reauthorizing our highway program for six years would be reason enough to strongly support the DRIVE Act. But I want to highlight another part of this bill that is very important to my state.
“The DRIVE Act reauthorizes the Appalachian Regional Commission through 2021. West Virginia is the only state that is entirely within the Commission’s boundaries.
“Earlier this year, the Commission marked its 50th anniversary of leading efforts to fight poverty and improve the quality of life in the Appalachian region. Over that period, poverty in the Appalachian region has been cut in half, and the percentage of residents over 25 with college degrees has nearly tripled.
“Still, there is more work to do.
“One of the biggest hurdles to job growth in the Appalachian region is a lack of access to high speed internet. According to the Federal Communications Commission, 56 percent of West Virginia residents lack broadband services that meet its standards. In rural areas of the state, this number is even higher.
“The DRIVE Act authorizes a broadband deployment initiative through the Appalachian Regional Commission to help increase access to high speed Internet in support of distance learning, telemedicine, and business development.
“Reauthorizing the Appalachian Regional Commission, and bringing broadband to small, economically distressed communities will help bring jobs to West Virginia.
“The Appalachian Regional Commission provides important support for health care, education, and infrastructure programs across West Virginia. I am pleased that the DRIVE Act will allow the Commission to continue its efforts for the next six years.
“Now is the time to move our transportation system forward, meet the needs of our growing population, ensure safety for travelers and promote growth in areas that struggle economically.
“The Senate has the opportunity to make a real and positive difference for all Americans by passing the DRIVE Act.
“I ask my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this important legislation.
“I yield the floor.”
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