October 2, 2012 - From the October, 2012 issue

Mobility 21 Honors Senator Boxer for Championing Transportation

Last month, Mobility 21’s 11th annual Southern Californian Transportation Summit connected experts, CEOs, legislators, and citizens passionate about improving transportation in the region. Senator Barbara Boxer received the Transportation Vanguard Award in recognition of a recent bill expanding the loan capabilities of the federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA). In her acceptance speech, featured bellow, Boxer praises Mayor Villaraigosa’s America Fast Forward plan, a cornerstone of the bill; identifies the need to innovate a funding solution to the dwindling Highway Trust Fund; and reiterates the importance of improving transportation infrastructure in California and throughout the nation. MIR presents the following excerpts of Senator Boxer’s remarks.

Senator Barbara Boxer

"I did anything and everything to make the point that my friend Jim Inhofe makes constantly, and that is, for the most conservative person, building the infrastructure is critical." -Senator Barbara Boxer

Barbara Boxer: It’s so great to receive an award when you’re still alive! Thank you. I really have to say, first to the Mayor, he remembers that day a few years ago when he came to Washington to see us and to present us with a dilemma. That dilemma was that cities like his had passed sales taxes and wanted to speed up the construction. He asked us, “Isn’t there some way that the Federal Government could step forward because we have that guarantee with the funding stream behind us? Maybe these projects could be built out on a faster timetable.”

Well, I was taken immediately with it. First of all, it was just a no-brainer because it’s not a risk to the Federal Government. We know you’ve got 30 years of sales taxes behind you, and especially in times of recession, as we were going into at that time, we knew that we could get these projects out at a low cost. So it was a win-win. 

You know, there’s a little program called TIFIA, and it has funded about $100 million a year and is oversubscribed. We can turn it into something else. With that, we got Jim Inhofe’s support; we got John Mica’s support; I know Bill Shuster is here and he supports it. We were able to immediately come together on this notion of 30/10, and because of the leadership of Mayor Villaraigosa and a lot of you, there’s a section of the bill called America Fast Forward. That’s exciting. 

When you take a program up from $110 million to $750 million in the first year and $1 billion in the second year, as we say in Washington, that’s real money. And those are real jobs, as in one million jobs.

Well, what kept me going during all this, I have to be very honest with you, was the vision of ten football stadiums filled with unemployed construction workers. It broke my heart. This housing crisis that we’re still living out, it just dealt a blow to so many working people and so many businesses. So in my mind I thought, “We have to move forward with a hybrid bill.” But the problem, sort of a good news-bad news problem, is because we are getting so much more fuel economy (which is terrific) we’re getting less money into the Highway Trust Fund from the gas tax. You all know this. 

Here we face a moment in time, with all this unemployment, a dwindling Highway Trust Fund. We have to find the funding elsewhere. And because we haven’t been ahead of ourselves on this, and we haven’t found that sweet spot, that’s our next challenge—finding a funding solution to the Highway Trust Fund. You’ve got to be a part of this, and we have to come together. This is why I love this conference. Here, we put aside our differences, whether we are Republicans, Democrats, or Independents, even at the height of a rough and tough election. We are here because we believe that regardless of our party affiliations, regardless of where we live or what we look like, we cannot be a great nation, region, or state if we cannot move people or if we can’t move goods. You know that, and that kept me going. I don’t know how many of you were on my conference calls, but I did conference calls almost once a week for almost a year because I knew the inside game of getting a bill approved wasn’t going to be enough. 

You call yourselves mobility people. We have to get everyone across the country like you who cares about moving and mobility to get on the phone to call their congressmen. I have to admit, I took at least six Tea Party members out to breakfast in the Senate dining room. I did anything and everything to make the point that my friend Jim Inhofe makes constantly, and that is, for the most conservative person, building the infrastructure is critical. 


We were able to do this, but the big job still lies ahead of us. It’s only three years, and you know how fast that goes, right? So we’re going to start right away to find that long-term funding source. It’s going to have to take some outside-the-box thinking again to get it done. 

I’ll close with this: we cannot turn our back on the status of our transportation infrastructure. We cannot do that, and I know a lot of you have said that all through the day. But I’m going to repeat a couple of points here. 50 percent of highway miles are traveled on roads in good conditions; 50 percent of our roads are not in good condition. 70,000 of our nation’s bridges are structurally deficient. We rank, the United States of America, 23 of 139 countries on the overall quality of our infrastructure, behind Spain and Chile. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives us a D rating for our infrastructure, D- for our roads, C for our bridges, and D for transit. You know, if our kids came home with these grades we would really get concerned. You know, also, how little we spend compared to other nations. We spend two percent of GDP on infrastructure, which is a 50 percent decline since 1960.

So many hours have been wasted, as the Mayor pointed out today as he tried to get here on time. And hours, as you who are in business all know, equal productivity and output. 

So we have a job in front of us. I am thrilled to be recognized, believe me. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is. This was the hardest thing I have ever done since giving birth. I am sincere about that. 

The last second, when we had everything done, the numbers came back from the Department of Transportation, and it turned out our formula was not fair. Certain states did great, and other states did badly. I went to Chairman Mica and said, “We can’t have a bill with this formula.” He agreed but asked what we could do about it. I said, “I don’t know but we have 15 minutes to figure it out.” I’m serious. Then a staffer of Congressman Mica came up with a plan, and it was a good fair plan: just keep everybody where they were before, and then add the TIFIA program, and whatever smart cities and counties apply for that, that will be based off the merit of their program. And that’s what we did. But it was touch-and-go, and it was very difficult. Every time that I see a construction crew out there, and every time I see businesses hiring construction workers, I think how grateful I am to California for sending me to Washington so that I could get something that important done. Thank you. 


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