U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today led a hearing entitled, “Connecting America: Improving Access to Infrastructure for Communities Across the Country.” Gov. Dennis Daugaard testified at the hearing, which examined the challenges of connecting Americans, particularly in rural communities, to transportation and information networks.
Thune questioned Daugaard about existing programs under the FAST Act, which passed the Senate in December 2015, and how they compared to new policy designs or a project-specific approach.
Click here to watch Daugaard’s opening remarks.
Thune’s opening statement, as prepared for delivery:
“Last night, President Trump called for renewal of our nation’s infrastructure.
“Today, we will hear from leaders representing the infrastructure needs of our geographically diverse country, from Miami Beach to Utah, and even from my home state of South Dakota, Governor Dennis Daugaard.
“Thank you all for being here today.
“Though separated by thousands of miles, our communities are connected by a vital network of transportation and communications infrastructure.
“Providing this connection for people, goods, and information to travel safely and efficiently across America is a responsibility shared by all levels of government, as evidenced by our panel today.
“Most recently, through the work of this Committee and others, Congress reauthorized federal surface transportation programs in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation – or FAST Act – the $305 billion, five-year bill enacted to improve our nation’s infrastructure, increase safety, and enhance economic growth.
“The first long-term transportation bill in a decade, the FAST Act provided needed certainty and was a big step in the right direction, but our nation’s infrastructure is too important to American competitiveness not to remain a critical focus of this Committee.
“For example, without a robust and efficient transportation sector, rural states like mine would be unable to get their goods to market.
“In 2015, South Dakota alone saw $65 billion in freight flows traveling to and from the state.
“The majority of that freight volume is made up of agricultural products, which help to feed Americans in places like Miami and Salt Lake City, and countless places in between.
“Commerce does not end at our state lines, or even our national borders.
“In fact, in a recent letter to President Trump, over 200 agriculture producers and related businesses highlighted this point, stating, ‘Infrastructure that supports rural communities and links them to global markets has helped make the U.S. the unquestioned leader in agricultural production.’
“More broadly, a more efficient transportation network boosts the competitiveness of nearly every sector of our economy.
“Unfortunately, what used to be the best transportation infrastructure system in the world is now falling behind, unable to keep pace with the growing demands of our economy.
“Similarly, while the U.S. is a global leader in broadband innovation and investment, millions of Americans still do not have access to the internet, most of them in rural communities.
“Our digital networks have primarily been built by companies using private capital—$1.5 trillion dollars of private sector investment over the last twenty years.
“Yet, in many parts of the country it is simply not economical to build broadband systems, leaving some communities behind.
“The federal government and many states have stepped in to address this funding gap, augmenting private capital with limited, but crucial, government support.
“To continue bridging this digital divide, we need to examine existing programs to determine how best to improve their efficacy.
“And we need to explore new ways to reduce the cost of broadband, like reducing regulatory obstacles to deployment.
“For example, the MOBILE NOW Act, which Ranking Member Nelson and I introduced and this Committee approved earlier this year, would make broadband deployment more affordable by streamlining the red tape broadband providers face and by helping to make more wireless spectrum available for mobile broadband services.
“Enacting this legislation would be a great down payment toward ensuring all Americans can benefit from the digital economy.
“Fortunately, improving our infrastructure – for transportation and information – is an area where bipartisan agreement and cooperation among different levels of government can oftentimes be found.
“Of course, as we work to achieve our shared goals, we need to ensure that we are fully exploring funding options and being responsible stewards of federal funds.
“In transportation, as reaffirmed with the passage of the FAST Act, states and local governments receive an allocated share of federal funding through formulas.
“This funding model has been widely considered appropriate and equitable for the states, as evidenced by the Senate’s strong vote of 83 to 16.
“Outside of the direct funding model, infrastructure investment takes a variety of forms.
“Some of the more recently discussed, yet not necessarily new, approaches include bonds, tax credits, and credit assistance programs.
“Compared to rural areas, high population density urban areas may be conducive to a more diverse range of financing options, including public-private partnerships, so-called P3s.
“In some cases, P3s can enhance capital efficiency by transferring greater responsibility to private entities in exchange for access to some sort of revenue, such as tolls, fees, or availability payments.
“Despite ongoing interest, however, P3s currently account for only a small share of highway projects, partly because many projects do not make financial sense for private sector investment.
“Even with these limitations, in an era of scarce dollars, such financing tools should be considered a valuable supplement—but not a substitute –for traditional infrastructure investment.
“We should be focused on what works for different areas of the country, not locked-in to a particular approach.
“This includes supporting existing authorized programs that work.
“That is not to say that the existing federal funding system can’t be improved – or to suggest that more funding is always the answer.
“In some instances, transportation providers and shippers have been saddled with unnecessary regulations and paperwork requirements that burden operations and inhibit capital investment.
“In other cases, a web of permitting processes unnecessarily slows project delivery and adds costs to project construction.
“Eliminating unnecessary hurdles, while maintaining an emphasis on safety improvements, can lead to a better use of both public and private dollars.
“Thank you to all of the witness for being here today.
“I look forward to hearing your testimony.”
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